CARY, N.C. – The No. 3 Duke women’s tennis team finished as the runner-up at the ACC Tournament after losing to No. 2 North Carolina 4-2 on Sunday afternoon at Cary Tennis Park.
“I thought we competed well,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth. “I don’t think we struck the ball well and as clean as we could have. We did a good job of getting that doubles point. I was hoping to carry the momentum from that into the singles, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t get on top it seemed like. When we’ve played really well, after the doubles, we’ve gotten a really quick singles match. Ellyse (Hamlin) played a great singles match, but we couldn’t get on top or get any separation. I don’t think we hit the ball as clean as we have been. Hopefully we learn from that because there’s a good chance we play them in a couple of weeks.”
In a reversal of when the two teams met last weekend, Duke took an early lead after the Blue Devils clinched the doubles point. Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin fell to Jessie Aney and Alexa Graham in a tiebreaker the last time the two pairs met. Sunday though, McCarthy and Hamlin turned a 1-0 deficit into a 6-1 win with a dominant six-game winning streak.
North Carolina evened the doubles when Makenna Jones and Marika Akkerman beat Meible Chi and Hannah Zhao 6-4. With the doubles point hanging in the balance, Samantha Harris and Kelly Chen won the final two games of the match to beat Sara Daavettila and Alle Sanford.
Duke’s momentum from the singles match did not last long. Jones tied the score at one all when she was able to beat Harris 6-1, 6-0.
After the quick finish on court one, the rest of the matches took a considerable amount of time, as the two teams battle back and forth. After the two teams played for more than four hours in their most recent meeting, it took 3:43 to decide the winner on Sunday, making the final the longest match of the tournament.
Duke regained the lead when Hamlin beat Aney in straight sets. Hamlin went up 3-0 and 5-1 in the first set for a quick lead. In the second set, the pair were tied on five different occasions and traded the lead four times. Finally, in a tiebreaker, Hamlin claimed the second set for a 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) win.
On court six, Zhao fell behind Chloe Oullet-Pizer early in the first set and never recovered, allowing the Tar Heel to take an early lead. Zhao regrouped during the break and the second set was all Duke with Zhao winning six of the seven games. In the decisive third set, Oullet-Pizer once again took an early lead and she was able to finish the win 6-4, 1-6, 6-2.
Carolina’s first lead came after Sanford topped Chi on court two in an incredibly tight two-set match. After Sanford won the first two games, neither player led by multiple games in the first set. After Chi forced a tiebreaker after tying the set at six games apiece, Sanford won the tiebreaker 7-4 to take the lead. Sanford led most of the second set and had Chi on the brink of a loss as Sanford led 5-3. The Blue Devil refused to quit and won two straight games to tie the match. That was all for Chi though, as Sanford won the final two games to win 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 to put North Carolina on the brink of the title.
With Carolina leading 3-2, the crowd was split between courts three and four with both matches tied at 3-3 in the third set. On court three, McCarthy and Daavettila battled while Chen tussled with Graham on court four.
As the matches moved along, McCarthy and Graham both had chances to win their matches. For Graham, she broke Chen’s serve to take a 5-3 lead in the decisive third set. Chen followed by winning a deuce point to break Graham’s serve and then defended her own serve to stay alive. The two traded games, including Chen once again fending off a match point for Graham, to force a tiebreaker.
Meanwhile, McCarthy led 5-3 on court four. After Daavettila defended her own serve to creep closer to McCarthy, she added a break point to tie the set at five all. Daavettila’s momentum continued with the Tar Heel winning the final two games to end the match with a 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 win.
“You have to learn from being in this situation,” Ashworth added. “You have to go after it. I told them afterwards, we put ourselves in position but then we were more hoping they would miss. We can’t play like that, especially in a match like this. You have to want it and take it when the opportunity is there. I don’t think we did, I don’t think we had that killer instinct that we needed to have to close out a match like that.”
Duke will wait to hear its fate in the NCAA Tournament. The selections will be announced during the NCAA Selection Show which will air on May 1 at 5 p.m.
1. No. 7 Makenna Jones (UNC) def. No. 6 Samantha Harris (Duke) 6-1, 6-0
2. No. 27 Alle Sanford (UNC) def. No. 54 Meible Chi (Duke) 7-6 (7-4), 7-5
3. No. 41 Sara Daavettila (UNC) def. No. 105 Kaitlyn McCarthy (Duke) 5-7, 6-3, 7-5
4. No. 28 Kelly Chen (Duke) vs. No. 92 Alexa Graham (UNC) 7-5, 4-6, 6-6 (6-6), unfinished
5. No. 118 Ellyse Hamlin (Duke) def. No. 96 Jessie Aney (UNC) 6-2, 7-6 (7-3)
6. Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (UNC) def. Hannah Zhao (Duke) 6-4, 1-6, 6-2
1. No. 12 Ellyse Hamlin/Kaitlyn McCarthy (Duke) def. No. 3 Jessie Aney/Alexa Graham (UNC) 6-1
2. No. 5 Samantha Harris/Kelly Chen (Duke) def. No. 22 Sara Daavettila/Alle Sanford (UNC) 7-5
3. Makenna Jones/Marika Akkerman (UNC) def. Meible Chi/Hannah Zhao (Duke) 6-4
North Carolina 26-3; National ranking No. 2
Duke 22-2; National ranking No. 3
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (1,5,6,2,3)