DURHAM, N.C. –Duke women’s tennis freshman Meible Chi overcame 5-2 deficits in the third set and third-set tiebreak to beat Northwestern sophomore Madeline Lipp and clinch a thrilling 4-3 victory for the Blue Devils over the No. 25 Wildcats in the title match of the ITA Kickoff Weekend. The 10th-ranked Blue Devils advance to the ITA National Indoors with the win.
“It’s a great win,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth. “It’s a great confidence builder. Meible [Chi], the first time she’s been in that situation and you’re not sure how she’s going to react. She held her composure and she was literally laughing and smiling the whole time was great to see.”
Duke improves to 3-0 overall, while Northwestern falls to 4-1. The Blue Devils and Wildcats will meet again on the courts in Durham for a rematch next Sunday.
“I was down 5-2, but then I saw Becky [Smaller] was still hanging in there and I just knew that if I’m going to lose I have to play my game," said Chi. "I can’t let anyone else down so I tried focusing on every single point and committed to my game.”
With the Wildcats holding a 3-2 lead, Northwestern needed just one of the final two matches on courts two and six. Chi and Lipp traded their first two sets as the Duke rookie rallied to win the first 7-6 before dropping the second 6-3. Lipp carried her momentum into the decisive third set, jumping in front 5-2 on Chi.
Meanwhile, on court six, Rebecca Smaller was in the middle of a fight with Nina Van Oost. They both took 6-4 victories in the first two sets, and nothing changed in the third as neither was able to pull away. As Chi started to rally on court one, Smaller got the break she needed to go up one game and keep the Blue Devils hopes alive.
“I think they started feeding off of each other,” Ashworth said. “I could hear them talking to each other on the courts.”
Feeding off of each other’s energy, Smaller put away Van Oost 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, leaving Chi on court two to decide the outcome. With the fans parked behind Chi as she mounted a furious third set comeback to force a tiebreak, the Weston, Fla., native remained calm despite trailing 5-2 in the tiebreak. Time after time she hit winners or forced Lipp into mistakes and eventually came away with the 7-6 (11), 3-6, 7-6 (6) victory.
Northwestern garnered the first team point of the day, fighting off numerous match point chances for the Blue Devils on all three courts. Duke jumped out to 5-2 and 5-3 leads on the courts two and three, respectively, but the Wildcats’ pairs were resilient in rallying to earn the 7-5 and 7-6 respective victories to clinch the single point.
Much like their counterparts, Kaitlyn McCarthy and Chi had the nation’s sixth-ranked pair of Madeline Lipp and Alexandra Chatt on the ropes at points. McCarthy and Chi went shot-for-shot with the Wildcats and had a 3-1 lead in the match tiebreak before it was suspended after Northwestern took the doubles point.
There was no hangover from the Blue Devils after losing the doubles points as they got off to a quick start in singles action, winning first sets on four of the six courts.
“I thought we had plenty of opportunities in doubles,” Ashworth said. “We let those opportunities slip away. Northwestern has great doubles and it was disappointing to lose it. The only thing we talked about between the doubles and singles was not getting too down because I didn’t know how we were going to react to losing that doubles point.”
Scholl, ranked 34th nationally, was the first off the court, dominating Rheeya Dorsi 6-2 6-1 to even the team score 1-1. McCarthy was right on Scholl’s heels, pushing the Blue Devils in front 2-1 with her 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Northwestern’s Lee Or on court four.
The tension ramped up inside the Sheffield Tennis Center after the Wildcats bounced back to tie the team score, 2-2, as Alex Chatt edged Alyssa Smith 6-4, 7-5 at No. 5 singles. Erin Larner added another point to the Wildcats total, squeaking out a 7-6, 7-5 straight set victory on court one to edge the Wildcats in front again, 3-2, and setting the stage for the heart-stopping finish.
Duke hosts Northwestern next Sunday, Feb. 5. The match is set to start at 12 p.m. The official location will be announced closer to the match depending on weather conditions.
#10 Duke 4, #25 Northwestern 3
1. Erin Larner (NU) def. Samantha Harris (DU) 7-6 (7-5), 7-5
2. #14 Meible Chi (DU) def. Maddie Lipp (NU) 7-6 (13-11), 3-6, 7-6 (8-6)
3. #34 Chalena Scholl (DU) def. Rheeya Doshi (NU) 6-2, 6-1
4. #76 Kaitlyn McCarthy (DU) def. Lee Or (NU) 6-1, 6-2
5. Alex Chatt (NU) def. Alyssa Smith (DU) 6-4, 7-5
6. Rebecca Smaller (DU) def. Nina Van Oost (NU) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
1. Kaitlyn McCarthy/Meible Chi (DU) vs. #6 Alex Chatt/Maddie Lipp (NU) 6-6 (3-1), unfinished
2. #24 Erin Larner/Lee Or (NU) def. Alyssa Smith/Chalena Scholl (DU) 7-5
3. #23 Rheeya Doshi/Brooke Rischbieth (NU) def. Samantha Harris/Rebecca Smaller (DU) 7-6 (7-3)
Northwestern 4-1; National ranking #25
Duke 3-0; National ranking #10
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (3,4,5,1,6,2)