Someone must have said something during Duke’s Senior Day recognitions that lit the Blue Devils’ fuse, because they played like dynamite in their match against Wake Forest.
No. 16 Duke bested the Demon Deacons 5-2 Sunday to cap the regular season off with a win in Ambler Tennis Stadium. The Blue Devils managed to snag the doubles point, but many of the singles matches came very close, with three courts playing all the way to seven games and Duke managing to win four of the six singles matches.
“Have no fear,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said of what he tells the team when it is playing a close game. “Understand that it’s OK to miss, whether it’s a shot or a serve, at the end of the day, it’s OK to miss. There have been times, both today and in other matches we’ve struggled with where we played as if we were scared to miss, rather than just playing how we’re capable of and how we need to play to get up.”
To start off the afternoon, the No. 1 doubles team of graduate student Meible Chi and junior Margaryta Bilokin won their doubles match 6-3 to secure the doubles point and give the Blue Devils (14-5, 9-4 in the ACC) an early lead.
“We had a couple goals going into the doubles and bringing positive energy and good body language was important for us. I thought we did a really good job of that,” Ashworth said. “Anytime we can get a win at any of our doubles spots really quickly, it sets the tone for everybody else.”
The first pair of Blue Devils to set the tone against Wake Forest (10-11, 6-7) was the No. 2 doubles team of Chloe Beck and Karolina Berankova, who won their match 6-0 in 15 minutes of stellar play.
“Starting off 6-0, I think our energy was really good,” Beck said. “I carried that energy into singles as well and I’m really glad we were able to get that win for our seniors.”
Beck, along with the rest of the team, had a very dominant first set of her singles match, handily winning 6-3, while Chi and Georgia Drummy won 6-1 and 6-2, respectively. Halfway into singles play after having won the doubles point, the Blue Devils looked like they were feeling good in their last home match of the regular season.
However, the second sets of many of the singles matches were a lot closer than the first. Beck, despite an eventual 6-4 win in the second set, began to lose momentum during her last couple games, with close points and several back and forth advantages before closing on games.
“It’s definitely tough when someone starts coming back and I played some really good games in the second set,” Beck said. “When I was serving up 4-3 and then serving up 5-4, I won both of those games and I think I just told myself to stay aggressive and to not play passively.”
Chi, playing in her final regular season home match at Ambler, also had to put up a strong fight at the end of her singles match. All year long, many of her matches have been critical to the team’s victories and Sunday was no different. Her opponent, Eliza Omirou, took their second set all the way to a 5-5 tie before Chi defeated her 7-5.
“[Omirou] played really well. She challenged me to dig deeper and really trust myself. I actually wasn’t very nervous at all, though, just the environment today and the mindset of just trying to enjoy it really helped me get through,” Chi said of her last set of her regular-season career. “Enjoying the competition is what college tennis is really about.”
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The Weston, Fla., native now holds the fifth-highest singles record (132-37) in school history and has undeniably been a leader for the team throughout her final year.
With the regular season now over, the Blue Devils are aiming to keep enjoying the competition as they head into the postseason.
“From a team standpoint, we’re in the best conference in the country right now,” Ashworth said of the upcoming ACC tournament. “I think 16 of the top 30 players in the country are in the ACC right now, so we just have to take advantage of having the opportunity to play against some good teams and I still believe our best tennis is still ahead of us.”
Up next, Duke will compete in the ACC tournament starting Thursday in Rome, Ga.