CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 3 Duke was able to avoid an upset bid by edging No. 28 North Carolina State, 4-3, to advance to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament on Friday.
With Duke leading 3-1, each of the top three positions were going into three sets. The Blue Devils had veterans at all three spots with a trio of seniors and needed to win just one of the three to advance to the semifinals.
Of the three it was No. 18 Reka Zsilinszka who came through with the big 6-1, 6-7 (1-7), 6-3 win in the deciding match. She jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the third set against Tatiana Illova at the No. 3 spot. However, Illova fought back to cut the set score to 4-3. Zsilinszka held serve to make it 5-3 and then came through with a break to clinch the victory for the Blue Devils.
“Reka has been in that situation so many times it makes you have to beat her because she is not going to give away points,” said Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth. “She was in the same situation last week against North Carolina. She stayed loose and kept putting balls in play. That is who you want in a pressure situation.”
Duke needed the strong performance from Zsilinszka because No. 36 Nadine Fahoum was defeated 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 by No. 31 Sanaa Bhambri to cut the lead to 3-2. Also, No. 88 Ellah Nze was handed a 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 loss by No. 94 Sandhya Nagaraj that tied the team score at 3-3.
“The team played with so much heart today,” said NC State head coach Hans Olsen. “They were determined to make Duke earn every point, and they took a very talented right to the edge. It hurts that we came up short, but I know this experience will pay dividends as we move forward to the NCAA Tournament.”
The Wolfpack started out strong by winning the doubles point to take an early 1-0 lead. Lenka Hojckova and Illova steamrolled 51st-ranked Fahoum and Hanna Mar in an 8-0 decision. No. 18 Bhambri and Nagaraj clinched the point with an 8-5 victory against 50th-ranked Nze and Rachel Kahan.
The momentum began to shift, however, when Duke won three consecutive singles matches in straight sets with the bottom of its lineup to take a 3-1 lead. No. 78 Mary Clayton evened up the team score with a 6-0, 6-1 victory at No. 6 against Christy Sipes. At the No. 5 position, No. 82 Kahan earned a 6-1, 6-2 win versus Hojckova and No. 63 Elizabeth Plotkin claimed a 6-2, 6-2 win against Joelle Kissell to earn the sweep for the set of three courts.
“We came out flat in doubles which we haven’t done in a long time, but I still thought we were in really good shape with our singles,” said Ashworth. “We got three quick wins and had three seniors left on the other three courts. I thought we would get one in straight sets but N.C. State played really well as a team and it came down to Reka.”
The match was delayed 1 1/2 hours and was moved indoors due to inclement weather in the early morning. Originally scheduled to be played at the Cary Tennis Park, the two teams switched to the Cone-Kenfield Indoor Tennis Center for the match.
Duke will face the winner of the quarterfinal match between Virginia and Florida State on Saturday at 10 a.m.