For a Duke team that entered Sunday with a 40-6 record since 2019, facing adversity early in the season isn't something it's used to.
But after falling to Georgia Tech Sunday afternoon to close out the ITA Kickoff Weekend, bouncing back from adversity is exactly what head coach Jamie Ashworth and his squad will need to do.
The sixth-ranked Blue Devils took care of business Saturday in their opening match of the weekend against No. 22 Michigan, winning 4-1, and took a 3-1 lead against the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets the following day.
Then, the team fell apart, dropping the final three singles matches on the day. The loss snapped Duke's 12-year streak of advancing to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, with Georgia Tech now advancing in the Blue Devils' place.
And for Ashworth, it was clear what led to the upset defeat.
"We put ourselves in a position to win, and when we put ourselves in that position, we didn't play winning tennis," Ashworth said. "We kind of backed off and played defensive and kind of hoped that Georgia Tech would miss rather than do what we did to put ourselves in those positions.
"It's disappointing, and I told them after—I've been around [Duke men's basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski] enough to know, he always says, 'You've gotta deserve to win.' And we just didn't deserve to win."
One of the most surprising developments of Sunday's match was the Blue Devils' struggles at the top of their singles rotation. Kelly Chen, Georgia Drummy, Meible Chi and Chloe Beck—who represented Duke at the 1-4 singles spots—all fell to their Yellow Jacket counterparts. Of that quartet, only Chi had faced off against a higher-ranked opponent.
"It's not very often, to be honest with you, that we get beat at 1, 2, 3, 4 [singles]," Ashworth said. "I've been at Duke for 25 years, and I can't remember the last time we got beat at 1, 2, 3, 4 in a match. I think that we have to keep trying people in different positions and giving people some opportunities.... Unfortunately, we gave ourselves a little bit of a break to do that in the schedule, which we hadn't planned on."
It wasn't all negative for the Blue Devils (2-1) throughout the weekend, though. Duke's doubles teams continued to impress, handling the Wolverines with ease and taking the early point against Georgia Tech as well.
The duos of Karolina Berankova/Beck and Drummy/Chen each finished 2-0 through the weekend, with Ashworth indicating he's happy with "the partnerships and the personalities playing together" despite the fact that Berankova and Drummy are both brand new to the program.
While Sunday's defeat certainly stings, one loss certainly doesn't rule out the Blue Devils from returning to the Final Four, which they've made in each of the past two full seasons. However, what would rule them out is not learning from the lessons this loss provides, especially with three unranked matchups on the horizon before ACC play begins.
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"It's having a standard and holding ourselves to that standard," Ashworth said Sunday regarding how his team can keep up the intensity during the softer part of its schedule. "And that's something that we talked about right after the match today.
"We've talked about having to play with energy and playing with emotion and being mentally smart. Those are all standards that we hold ourselves to. It doesn't matter who's on the other side of the net—we have to play to those standards...not just to score, but do things the right way."