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ChronSports' 2020 what-if series: Duke women's tennis

Junior Kelly Chen secured her third consecutive ITA All-American selection.
Junior Kelly Chen secured her third consecutive ITA All-American selection.

With the suspension and later cancellation of all Duke athletic competition due to the spread of coronavirus, many Blue Devil seasons were abruptly cut short. The Chronicle is going to take a look back at those seasons affected as well as what we missed out on with their cancellations. We've already looked at men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, men's lacrosse, women's lacrosse, men's tennis, women's golf and men's golf. Next up: women's tennis.

Season summary

After reaching the Final Four last spring, Duke was ready to make another run at its second championship in program history and first since 2009. Just weeks after the 2019 season ended, the Blue Devils welcomed Vanderbilt graduate transfer Summer Dvorak, who would prove to be a valuable piece in the singles lineup. Not only that, but they also added Blue Chip recruit Chloe Beck, who would be the last piece in the puzzle of Duke’s dream roster.

The Blue Devils hit the ground running and didn’t falter over their first four matches, sweeping every challenger. As was expected, the season got a little more interesting when ranked play started. Then-No. 12 Ohio State and then-No. 2 North Carolina gave Duke some rude awakenings in its only losses of the season, the only stains on the Blue Devils' nearly spotless 11-2 record. This isn’t to say that Duke crumbled in the face of adversity. In their other three ranked matches, the Blue Devils dismantled then-No. 6 Pepperdine, then-No. 3 Georgia and then-No. 25 Syracuse. As the season hit its midpoint (and soon to be endpoint), Duke stood at a firm No. 10 national ranking, still very much in contention for both the ACC and NCAA titles. -Christian Olsen

Team MVPs

One of the youngest members of the Blue Devils' roster also happened to be one of the team's greatest contributors. Beck didn’t take long to adjust to the college atmosphere, and her skill and poise led her to finish the season 10-1 in dual play, tied for the second best record on the team. In the fall, she reached the semifinals of the ITA All-American Championships, the deepest run from Duke’s roster. However, her highlights didn’t end with singles. 

Beck’s performance was only enhanced on the doubles court, where she teamed up with junior Kelly Chen. The duo would go on to win 11 of their 16 matches together. Chen, a three-time ITA All-American, rose to the standard she’s set for herself and put away more opponents than any other Blue Devil, ending the season with a 21-6 overall record. -Olsen

What we missed out on

Duke’s second match after Spring Break would've been a home battle against No. 2 Florida State, with a quick turnaround to hosting No. 1 North Carolina. Though the Blue Devils were already 2-1 against top-10 opponents, this was the time for them to really break through, the time to prove their national contender status and avenge what was a bit of a drubbing at the hands of the Tar Heels back in February. Regardless of outcome, that was going to be a couple of matches full of fireworks.

Of course, the fuse to those explosives was never lit, and the team will have plenty of “what-ifs” to deal with until it can next hit the court. There will be no chance to avenge two straight NCAA semifinals losses, and the next opportunity could very well come without two members of the current lineup. -Em Adler

Best-case scenario

Duke’s remaining schedule featured eight top-30 teams, four of which were top-10—i.e. teams ranked higher than the Blue Devils. A sweep seemed pretty unlikely, but Duke wasn't too far off of defeating now-No. 5 Ohio State. And the Blue Devils had no trouble running other top squads off the court (outside of North Carolina). Who’s to say Duke couldn't have proven themselves to be a top-5 team in the country and secure not only a good side of the ACC bracket, but a lighter early schedule in the NCAA tournament?

A team with two underclassmen in its top three and three in its top six can be full of pleasant surprises. -Adler

Worst-case scenario

A team with two underclassmen in its top three and three in its top six can also falter under the bright lights. Sophomore Margaryta Bilokin was a revelation out of the three-spot, going 10-1, and we’ve already mentioned Beck’s accomplishments. But freshman Yasmine Mansouri did drop all of her matches against ranked opponents.

Is this Duke team talented? No doubt. Is it talented enough to beat Georgia Tech or Florida State or North Carolina without Bilokin and Mansouri and Beck going strong? Doubt it.

Not that the Blue Devils didn’t have every chance in the world of dominating when the going got tough. But there’s really never any way to tell how young players will do under high pressure until you see them play there. Sometimes you see them play there, and it’s sensational. And sometimes you see them play there, and it’s not quite what you had hoped for. In the latter case, you’re hoping for a third consecutive NCAA semifinals loss. -Adler


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