ATHENS, Ga. - Playing the second-seeded Florida Gators for the second time this season, the third-seeded Duke women's tennis team suffered a 4-3 setback in the NCAA Semifinals Monday afternoon on the McWhorter Courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. The loss snapped the Blue Devils' run of 18 straight victories, which was the second-longest streak in program history.
"It was a great match," head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "Every court was a battle. No.5 and 6 singles went to three sets and doubles comes down to a breaker. I couldn't be happier with how we competed. I thought that especially because we lost to them 4-0 earlier in the season and we wanted this opportunity. This group of girls we had on the courts today completely fought their butts off for everything. That's what we talked about before the match, was making Florida earn every point."
Florida opened the afternoon strong, as the nation's top-ranked doubles team comprised of Allie Will and Sofie Oyen earned a convincing 8-2 victory over the Blue Devils' 21st-ranked duo of junior Mary Clayton and freshman Ester Goldfeld. Despite a long wait between the finish on court one and the next match to be completed, sophomore Hanna Mar and senior Monica Gorny scored an 8-4 victory on court three over Caroline Hitimana and to leave the doubles point hanging in the balance on court two.
Playing in the No. 2 spot, Duke's 17th-ranked team of freshman Beatrice Capra and sophomore Rachel Kahan found themselves in a great battle with 22nd-ranked Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather. With the match tied at three, the Gators went on to take the next three games, before the Blue Devils responded to tie the match at six all. After another tie at 7-7, Duke took an 8-7 lead before Florida stormed back to take the final two games following a 7-1 score in the tie-break.
The Gators grabbed a quick 6-4, 6-1 win on court two, as ninth-ranked Lauren Embree defeated the 110th-ranked Goldfeld, before the 21st-ranked Mather pushed the Florida lead to 3-0 in the overall match, fighting her way back from a lost first set to win, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 over No. 59 Mar.
Despite the 3-0 deficit, the match was far from over, as the Blue Devils held leads on the four remaining courts. Freshman and 92nd-ranked Monica Turewicz worked through a tough, three-set battle with Olivia Janowicz on court six, pulling through for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory to cut Florida's lead to 3-1. The Lake Forest, Ill., native won her 15th straight match and improved her record to 32-3 on her rookie campaign.
In a highly-anticipated matchup between the nation's top two ranked players, Capra, ranked second, cut Florida's lead to 3-2 after she upset top-ranked Allie Will in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4. The last time the two met, Capra led Will, 6-4, 5-4, and was serving with match point when rain stopped the match in its tracks and went unfinished. The win was the Ellicott City, Md., native's 20th win over a ranked opponent this season.
"Whoever you play at No. 1 is going to tough, and really whoever you play here is going to be a tough match," Capra stated. "I knew going in that it was going to be a grind with Allie (Will). I have played her a couple of times and I knew that she doesn't give you any free points. It was definitely a long match and very physical. I thought a good job of staying aggressive and into the court."
Kahan, ranked 85th, tied the match at 3-3 when she fought back after losing the second set of on court four to claim a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 victory over the 61st-ranked Oyen. The Unionville, Conn., native ran her record to 26-5 on the season and 23-3 in dual matches.
It all came down to a three-set clash on court five between the 66th-ranked Clayton and the 79th-ranked Cercone. Clayton took a tough first set, 7-5, but Cercone countered to win the second set, 6-4. The last match in progress with the score 4-3 in the third and final set, an enormous crowd of several hundred people crowded the fence next to the court for the remainder of the match. Cercone eventually won the final two games to clinch the match, and send the Gators to the national championship for the second year in a row.
"Throughout the entire match she (Cercone) was getting progressively tired," Clayton said. "But to her credit, she continued to run down every ball and she really made me hit that extra ball. Some points I would hit a winner and sometimes I would miss."
The loss concludes Duke's season with a final record of 29-3. The 29 wins are the second most in program history - tied with the 2009 national championship team.
"If you look at where we were in January, we were playing four freshmen," Ashworth said reflecting on the season. "We lost five girls off of last year's team. I knew we had some talent. I knew we had the chance to be good, but a lot of that depended on how we were able to come together as a team."
#2 Florida 4, #3 Duke 3
May 21, 2012 at Athens, Ga. (Dan Magill Tennis Complex)
|1. #2 Beatrice Capra (DU) def. #1 Allie Will (FLA) 6-4, 6-4|
|2. #9 Lauren Embree (FLA) def. #110 Ester Goldfeld (DU) 6-4, 6-0|
|3. #21 Joanna Mather (FLA) def. #59 Hanna Mar (DU) 2-6, 6-2, 6-0|
|4. #85 Rachel Kahan (DU) def. #61 Sofie Oyen (FLA) 6-3, 5-7, 6-2|
|5. #79 Alexandra Cercone (FLA) def. #66 Mary Clayton (DU) 5-7, 6-4, 6-3|
|6. #92 Monica Turewicz (DU) def. Olivia Janowicz (FLA) 6-1, 4-6, 6-3|
|1. #1 Allie Will/Sofie Oyen (FLA) def. #21 Ester Goldfeld/Mary Clayton (DU) 8-3|
|2. #22 Lauren Embree/Joanna Mather (FLA) def. #17 Beatrice Capra/Rachel Kahan (DU) 9-8 (7-1)|
|3. Hanna Mar/Monica Gorny (DU) def. Alexandra Cercone/Caroline Hitimana (FLA) 8-4|
|Duke 29-3; National ranking #3|
|Florida 26-1; National ranking #2|
|Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (2,3,6,1,4,5)|
|NCAA Women's Tennis Championships - Semifinals|