Raise the banner. For the first time since 2012, the Blue Devils have won the ACC championship after defeating Virginia 4-1 in the title match at the ACC tournament in Rome, Ga.
The hero this time? Freshman Emma Jackson. After losing her first set to freshman Elaine Chervinsky 6-3, Jackson flipped the narrative in the second set, beating Chervinsky by the same score. The third set went back and forth, but with Jackson ahead 6-5 and in need of one point to clinch the championship, Chervinsky spoiled the Blue Devils' party, winning the point and forcing the tiebreaker.
From then on, it was all Jackson. The 19-year-old won six straight points, putting herself firmly in control. While she did falter slightly, giving up three straight points to Chervinsky, Jackson stayed calm, closing out the set and the tournament after forcing a tough return shot from Chervinsky that went wide. Just like that, Duke was the ACC champion.
“I don’t think she lets the moment get ahead of her,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth.
It wasn’t the first time Jackson ended a match for the Blue Devils. Just two days ago, in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, Jackson beat Wake Forest sophomore Casie Wooten in straight sets to send Duke to the semifinals. The Blue Devils had lost the doubles point and were relying on a singles win to clinch the match, and Jackson answered the call.
This moment was particularly familiar for Jackson. When Duke and Virginia matched up March 4, the La Grange Park, Ill., native was the last one on the court. The Blue Devils had dropped the doubles point but won three of the singles matches. It was down to Jackson, who handled the pressure with ease. She won the third set 6-1, and Duke won the match 4-3.
When it came down to the final points Sunday, Jackson’s advantage was simple: she executed. “She just put balls on the court....” said Ashworth. “Couldn't be prouder of the effort that she put in. Down, but definitely never out.”
That mindset for the Blue Devils was evident from the first point of doubles play. Duke and Virginia each won one match handily as the duo of Chloe Beck and Ellie Coleman fell to Natasha Subhash and Sofia Munera 6-1 and the pairing of Eliza Omirou and Margaryta Bilokin defeated Chervinsky and Amber O’Dell 6-2. The doubles point came down to court one, where senior Georgia Drummy and sophomore Karolina Berankova took on the sophomore duo of Emma Navarro and Hibah Shaikh. The two sides traded points with neither conceding much. With Duke down 6-5, it was all Berankova: The sophomore won the last two points of the game to force a tiebreaker. Each team scored three unanswered, Duke first, then Virginia, before the Blue Devils pulled away. The Blue Devils clinched the doubles point as Virginia’s return narrowly bounced out of bounds, giving Duke the tiebreaker victory 7-4 and the first point of the day.
“Usually when we win doubles points, it's, ‘Okay let's just move on to singles,’ but the emotion that we had after the doubles was unbelievable to see for us and to kind of carry into the singles,” said Ashworth. That energy helped Drummy claim a quick singles victory to put Duke ahead 2-0.
While Jackson might have clinched the victory, Drummy was a big part of the reason that she had the opportunity to do so. After clinching the doubles point alongside Berankova, Drummy was slated to face Subhash in her singles match. The senior quickly set the tone of Duke dominance, winning 6-3, 6-2 in straight sets. The Dublin, Ireland native was unstoppable from the baseline, recording three straight aces en route to her victory. The Blue Devils needed a strong start; Drummy provided just that.
Drummy’s win was followed by Coleman’s. After winning her first set 6-4, Coleman found herself on serve with opponent Sara Ziodato. For the second time in the match, the set was forced into a tiebreaker. Just as her teammates Drummy and Berankova had done in their doubles match and Jackson would go on to do in her singles match, Coleman closed it out, putting Duke one point away from victory.
As two matches were left unfinished—senior Kelly Chen and Bilokin were both in third sets when Jackson won her match—the Cavaliers only tallied one point on the day, as Navarro defeated Beck 6-4, 6-2. During the first set, Beck was competitive, trading games with her opponent until the score was 4-4. Then, Navarro showed why she is the top-ranked women’s singles player in the NCAA by winning the next two games to take the first set. The second wasn’t quite as close, and Navarro made quick work of her former French Open teammate to give Virginia its first and only point of the day.
With an ACC title to their name and the momentum in their favor, the Blue Devils are turning their attention toward the NCAA tournament. Their path to a national title will become more clear after the NCAA Women’s Tennis Selection Show, which airs May 2 at 6:30 p.m.
“It's an opportunity to get better and it's an opportunity to play as a group and see what we can accomplish as a group,” said Ashworth.
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