WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Duke women’s tennis team had a Blue Devil advance in both the NCAA Singles and Doubles draw on Thursday afternoon at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex.
Chen opened the day for Duke, taking on North Carolina’s second-seeded Makenna Jones. Chen entered the match on a 21-match winning streak while Jones had an 18-match unbeaten run of her own. Much like the previous matchup between the two, played at the ITA Team Indoor Semifinals and Chen’s last loss, the first set went to the Blue Devil. However, unlike the first meeting, the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year did not allow Jones to recover to win the second set. With the score tied at 4-4 in the second set, Chen closed the door by winning the final two games to move on 6-3, 6-4. Chen becomes the first Blue Devil to reach the Round of 16 since both Beatrice Capra and Ester Goldfield did in 2014. It is also the highest seed a Duke player has toppled since Mallory Cecil beat the second-seed en route to winning the 2009 singles championship.
"Kelly had a great win against a girl she has lost twice to this year," said assitant coach Matt Manasse. "It was a tough match mentally with All-America honors riding on it, but Kelly did a great job of sticking to game plan. She stayed inside the court and on-top of the baseline and being the more aggressive player. She was able to make Jones move and was dictating the play. she did that right up until the last point."
Chi was looking to reach the Round of 16 for the first time, after losing in the Round of 32 in 2017. The sophomore from Weston, Fla., drew No. 9 through No. 16 seed Andrea Lazaro in the second round. Unfortunately, Chi could not get by Lazaro, dropping a 6-3, 6-3 decision to end her season. Chi closes the year with a 35-7 record, the second-highest win total on the team.
"Meible competed very well and tried her best," Manasse said. "All-America honor was one of her main goals and losing here shouldmake her hungrier next year. She came along way this year and shows why she deserves to be in conversation among the best players in the country. She ended the season really well. She can only take positives from this and grow moving forward."
Starting play in NCAA individual action was the doubles tandem of Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin. The pair were seeded No. 5 through No. 8 and opened play against Pepperdine’s Mayar Sherif Ahmed and Luisa Stefani in the Round of 32. Duke’s pairing started the match in front, winning the first set 6-2. McCarthy and Hamlin could not close the match out in the second set, allowing Pepperdine to take it 6-3.
That set up a third-set tiebreaker with each team needing ten points to advance. McCarthy and Hamlin got out to a quick lead, going up 5-0. Although Sherif Ahmed and Stefani cut into the gap, Duke’s junior duo always stayed one step ahead. Finally, a McCarthy volley proved too much for Pepperdine’s player, hitting it into the net and giving Duke a 6-2, 3-6, 1-0 (10-7) victory. It is Duke’s first NCAA doubles victory since Capra and Hanna Mar reached the semifinals in 2014.
"They did great, from start to finish, sticking to the game plan of hitting through the net players and making them come up with something special." added Manasse. "In the second set, one break cost them, but they refocused in the tiebreaker and played their game style. It was a huge win against top-10 opponent and a really tough match to open NCAAs. It will be a huge confidence boost for them as a team and looking forward."
With the singles win, Chen earns All-America status on the singles side, adding to her All-America doubles honor. Chen and Samantha Harris both earned the All-America honors by virtue of their No. 5 through No. 8 seed. The pair withdrew from the tournament before play started. Harris also has All-America singles honors thanks to being seeded No. 5 in the singles tournament before she withdrew. With McCarthy and Hamlin also already earning All-America doubles honors because of their seeding, Duke is now assured at least six such honors at the conclusion of the tournament.
Chen will next battle Florida’s No. 9 through No. 16 seed Anna Danilina with a spot in the quarterfinals up for grabs. That match is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. The next opponent for McCarthy and Hamlin is a conference one as they will hit across from Clemson’s Marie Leduc and Fernanda Navarro at 2:30 p.m.
2018 NCAA Div. I Women’s Singles Championship May 23-28, 2018 at Winston-Salem, N.C. (Wake Forest Tennis Complex)
Round of 32
No. 28 Kelly Chen (Duke) def. No. 2 Makenna Jones (North Carolina) 6-3, 6-4
No. 13 Andrea Lazaro (FIU) def. No. 55 Meible Chi (Duke) 6-3, 6-3