DURHAM, N.C. - The third-ranked Duke women's tennis team fought off an upset-minded and 12th-ranked Northwestern, 5-0, Saturday afternoon in the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. Behind an impressive, enthusiastic home crowd and a determined Blue Devil effort, Duke defended its undefeated record to open the 2012 season.
"We competed really well," said head coach Jamie Ashworth, who claimed his 343rd career victory. "We've played five matches now, and we haven't been in a match like this."
In doubles, sophomore Hanna Mar and senior Monica Gorny took down Brittany Wowchuk and Kate Turvy, 8-4, in the No. 3 spot. Mar and Gorny improved to 4-1 overall this season, and 2-0 in dual match play.
Freshman Ester Goldfeld and junior Mary Clayton got out to a 6-4 lead in No. 1 doubles, but could not hang on to the advantage as Northwestern's Veronica Corning and Linda Abu Mushrefova rallied from behind to claim a 9-7 win. The loss was Duke's first in dual doubles thus far in 2012.
Freshman Beatrice Capra and sophomore Rachel Kahan found themselves in the deciding match to determine the doubles point against Nida Hamilton and Belinda Niu in the No. 2 doubles spot. Leading 7-5, Capra and Kahan struggled to finish off the relentless Wildcats, who tied the match at seven, but eventually prevailed to claim a 9-7 win and clinch the doubles point for Duke. With the win, the Duke duo improved to 5-0 in 2012.
In singles action, Duke found themselves in some hot water to start, as Northwestern (4-1) claimed the first set on courts three through six. The Blue Devils would respond however, winning the second set in each of those matches, forcing pivotal third sets, while winning in straight sets on courts one and two.
"We handled ourselves really well," commented Ashworth. "I'm proud of the way we fought back."
Ranked seventh in the nation, Capra made easy work of 26th-ranked Turvy, 6-1, 6-3, for Duke's first singles victory of the afternoon. Capra improved to 6-2 against ranked opponents, 5-0 in dual singles, and has now won nine straight singles matches.
The crowd came to life after Capra's victory, urging and motivating the Blue Devils to fight back and swing the momentum back into Duke's favor.
"I definitely think the crowd plays into our matches, and is a big influence," said Clayton. "It's awesome to see we're getting this much support."
As the players showed resiliency to Northwestern's quick start, the crowd bought into the Blue Devils' tough play on all six courts.
"People will be energetic in the crowd if we're energetic on the court," said Ashworth. "If we can provide a good product and a good atmosphere, then we'll get good crowd support. We're trying to make this the toughest place in country to play, and obviously one of the biggest aspects of that is the crowd."
Playing in the No. 5 spot, Clayton won a three-set battle, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, over previously undefeated Abu Mushrefova. The win improved Clayton's record to 5-0 in dual singles matches this season.
"After the first set, I was pretty disappointed with my performance, and came out in the second set really determined," said Clayton. "My mindset was to move forward. She was hitting quite a few shorter balls and I started to take advantage of those. [My] mindset was just more aggressive in the second [set] versus the first."
Kahan, playing in the No. 4 spot, upended Veronica Corning, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, to clinch the match for the Blue Devils. The win was her first after having her streak of 34 consecutive dual singles victories snapped last weekend against Illinois.
Mar, ranked 38th and playing in the No. 2 spot, defeated 86th-ranked Wowchuk in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, to improve to 5-0 in dual singles. Freshman and 35th-ranked Monica Turewicz also played a tough, three-set match in the No. 6 spot against Hamilton, but the match was stopped at match point after Duke clinched the overall match with the score, 2-6, 6-2, 5-2, in Turewicz's favor.
After receiving the top seed in next weekend's ITA National Women's Team Indoor Championships, the Blue Devils will travel to Charlottesville, Va. where they will take on 23rd-ranked Ole Miss on Friday, Feb. 10 at 9 a.m. in the first round.