DURHAM, N.C. – The fifth-ranked Duke women’s tennis team advanced to the round of 16 in this year’s NCAA Team Championship after defeating No. 30 South Carolina, 4-0, Saturday in the second round of the tournament in Durham, N.C. The Blue Devils (26-4), the fourth-seed in the NCAA tournament, will travel to Athens, Ga., to compete against the 13th-seeded Clemson Tigers Thursday, May 15 at 7 p.m. Thursday’s competition will mark Duke’s seventh appearance in the round of 16 in as many years.
“It feels great to make it to the next round because there’s nothing for certain. You always lay everything on the line and give everything you have, because you can’t play another match if you don’t win,” said senior Hanna Mar. “Today we came out with a good amount of energy and focus. This is the type of team that’s going to fight and never give up.”
The Blue Devils rallied in doubles, falling behind early before strong play on courts one and three secured the doubles point for Duke.
“We played really well, especially at three,” Ashworth said. “I thought that they came out and played a lot more disciplined than they did yesterday. They played with a lot of energy. That’s probably one of the best doubles matches that Annie [Mulholland] ever played. She really took control of the match at the net early on and they were able to run through that after 3-2. They played really well and really smart. On one, when Hanna [Mar] is playing aggressive and [Beatrice Capra] is hitting her serve, they’re a tough team to beat. I thought both of those teams played really well.”
The 36th-ranked pair of junior Ester Goldfeld and freshman Alyssa Smith fell for just the fifth time this season, dropping their contest on court two to South Carolina’s 51st-ranked tandem of Meghan Blevins and Katerina Popova, 8-1.
Duke responded on courts one and three however, as the 69th-ranked team of junior Annie Mulholland and freshman Chalena Scholl defeated Caroline Dailey and Ximena Siles Luna, 8-3, on court 3. With a break at 2-1, the Blue Devils took a two-game advantage, leading 3-1. After Dailey and Luna won two consecutive games to tie the match at 3-3, Mulholland and Scholl regrouped and asserted themselves, winning five straight games to earn the pair’s eighth win of the season.
With each team owning a doubles win, the point came down to the match on court one between Duke’s fifth-ranked team of sophomore Beatrice Capra and Mar and the 26th-ranked pair of Elixane Lechemia and Dominika Kanakova. With the contest knotted at 1-1, Capra and Mar broke Lechemia and Kanakova and held serve to take a 3-1 lead. Duke did not look back, dropping just one additional game en route to an 8-2 victory on court one. Capra and Mar improved to 19-5 on the season.
With first-set wins on five of the six courts, the Blue Devils set the tone early in singles play. Although lightning in the area caused a brief suspension of play, Duke caught its stride once the team returned to action.
Redshirt junior Rachel Kahan led Duke off the courts in singles with a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Dailey. Kahan never trailed in the match, going up a break on Dailey before dropping her only game of the match. Kahan has played stellar tennis in the first two rounds of this year’s tournament, winning in convincing fashion yesterday, 6-0, 6-0. The Unionville, Conn., native now sits at 18-6 this season.
“[Rachel]’s been playing well,” Ashworth said. “The break has been good for her. She’s always in these big matches in the NCAA tournament. She steps up in these situations really well. When she’s playing with a lot of emotion, and pumping her fist and playing loud, she plays well and people feed off of her.”
Mar’s aggressive play from doubles carried over to singles as the 36th-ranked singles player in the nation brought the Blue Devils within a point of the victory with a 6-0, 6-2 win over South Carolina’s Brigit Folland. Mar played with passion throughout the match, not surrendering a game to Folland in the first set. The Burr Ridge, Ill., native remained in control during the second set, taking a 2-1 lead and never trailing in the match. With the victory, Mar moves within three wins of the 100-win mark for her career. Mar also owns a 12-2 ledger when playing at the No. 3 position and an overall record of 28-10.
“[Hanna] came out ultra-aggressive today,” Ashworth said. “That’s how she has to play. She usually ends up in these long matches, but when she plays with energy and moves forward, it’s going to take someone a good effort to beat her.”
Goldfeld clinched the victory for the Blue Devils with a 6-2, 6-2 win over 107th-ranked Popova on court two. Goldfeld, Duke’s leader in singles wins, earned her 30th victory of the season after jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Popova brought the match within a game in the first set before Goldfeld held serve, broke Popova’s serve and then served out for the match. In the second set, Goldfeld fell behind, 0-1, before breaking Popova’s serve to tie the set at 1-1. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native once again extended her advantage, leading 4-1 before conceding one more game to Popova. Goldfeld closed out the second set, winning 6-2.
With the contest decided, matches on courts one, four and six remained unfinished. The seventh-ranked Capra led 6-3, 3-2 on court one, the 116th-ranked Scholl led 7-6 (7-3), 2-3 on court four and Mulholland trailed 3-6, 2-0 on court six.
The Blue Devils next travel to Athens, Ga., to face Clemson in the round of 16 at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 15.
“It should be a fun atmosphere,” Ashworth said. “It’s a night match. It’s definitely something the team should be proud of and certainly not something that’s taken for granted.”