Duke kicked off its spring season this weekend at the Michigan Invitational, squaring off against No. 12 Ohio State, No. 16 Michigan and Notre Dame over three days of match play. The Blue Devils excelled in singles, winning four out of six matchups against Ohio State, all seven of its matches with Notre Dame and two out of three matchups against Michigan.
Doubles, however, was a different story. Duke lost all three of its doubles tilts against Notre Dame and mustered only one doubles victory against Michigan. While the squad did rebound on Sunday with two doubles victories against Ohio State, its play clearly did not live up to expectations.
“I think it’s just the mindset and the speed of it,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth of the gap in performance between singles and doubles. “A six game set of doubles with no ad-scoring is quick.”
While the singles matches were played in a best-of-three set format, the doubles were a short and sweet one set affair—you win the set, you win the match. In such an abbreviated contest, it’s extremely important to start off strong and put some games on the board early, or the match can get away a hurry. The Blue Devils struggled to get off on the right foot in many of their doubles matches, and the result was many frustrating defeats.
A case in point was Chloe Beck and Emma Jackson’s Sunday matchup against Ohio State. The duo quickly found themselves down 1-3 and were only able to put one more game on the board for the rest of the contest, eventually losing 6-2 to Ratliff and Jones of OSU.
What often helps tennis players get ahead early is the ability to play confident, commanding tennis and keep points down to just a few shots. Ashworth cited this as another area that needed work for his team.
“We’ve gotta become more aggressive, we’ve gotta protect our service games a little better. If you look at the way tennis has changed, especially on the women’s side, it’s a little more power. The rallies are not 15-20 balls, it’s serve and what are you going to do with the first ball? That combination is something we really want to hone down”.
Another major factor in tennis is finding the right doubles pairings. Since doubles adds the element of coordination and cooperation to the game, the two partners need to jell and effectively work together to put up a strong performance. From signaling serve targets, to rapidly switching sides when a ball flies over the net players head, effective doubles play requires teamwork.
As a result, tennis coaches usually experiment with various doubles pairings until they find the duos that work best. This weekend, Duke employed numerous combinations with little success, and Ashworth explained how the experimentation will continue until the best pairings are found.
“I was hoping to have doubles teams set by now, but we are going to have to play some different combinations. We have people that are good individual doubles players, but we have to make sure we have the right combinations that will allow us the freedom to be ourselves on the court”.
Despite the early doubles struggles this weekend, Duke women’s tennis can hold its head high. The team won 13 out of 16 singles matchups this weekend and is currently ranked eighth in the country. Furthermore, there is a clear formula for success in doubles play—Duke knows exactly where it needs to improve. Starting out stronger, playing more aggressive tennis, making something happen with the serve and next ball and finding the best player combinations are all clear goals that Ashworth and his players can undoubtedly achieve.
With half the equation for success seemingly solved, the Blue Devils just have to improve in their doubles play and they will be competitive with any opponent that comes their way. After a quarterfinal loss to North Carolina in the 2021 NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils are hungry to make a deeper run and capture their first title since 2009. The road to that lofty goal continues Friday, when Ohio State will head to Durham to take on the Blue Devils.
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