April 19, 2009

CARY, N.C.-For the 16th time in Duke women's tennis history the Blue Devils captured the ACC Tournament title, defeating top-seeded Miami, 4-3, in heart-stopping action. Duke University sophomore Reka Zsilinszka overcame five match points in the final match of the day to beat Bianca Eichkorn in thrilling fashion and lead second-seeded Duke to the ACC Championship.

"It is by far the best feeling ever," Zsilinszka said. "It is by far the best match ever for me. I can't even describe the feeling it is. It was such a dejá vu. I lost 7-6 (8-6) in the third last year and it has traumatized me to this moment. I feel like I redeemed myself."

"We had unbelievable fan support," senior Jessi Robinson said. "They were amazing and it wasn't just for the finals. They came out every single day, which was awesome. It really made this feel like we were playing at Duke."

Rookie Mallory Cecil was voted as the ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player after going unbeaten for the weekend, including an upset of No. 4 Julia Cohen. The title is Duke's 16th tournament crown overall and the first since 2003. Head coach Jamie Ashworth captures his seventh title as the leader of the program.

"There are no words right now [to describe how special it is to win]," senior Melissa Mang said. "We came so close last year and all of these girls and my teammates mean so much to me. I was just so happy for Reka that she pulled it out, it is so amazing. Winning it as a senior and leaving my legacy here, I couldn't ask for more."

"We've worked a year to get back to this exact place," Robinson said. "It was only fitting that Reka was back on the court. It was our last shot and Melissa [Mang] went into it saying we are going to leave everything we had on the court and we are going to be proud of how we played. We've all worked so hard and I knew we had it in us this year."

The third-ranked Blue Devils avenged their regular season loss to Miami as well as their 4-3 loss to Clemson in the 2008 ACC Championship. The title match last season also came down to Zsilinszka in a third-set tie-breaker.

"Before the match I said to them 'We don't play for three weeks. Leave everything you have on the court.' Our goal at the end of the tournament was to leave her mentally, physically, emotionally drained and they did that. It was a great thing for Reka to come through especially after last year and you can't ask more from a team."

Miami's Claudia Wasilewski pulled out a three-set victory over Duke's Robinson at No. 6 singles to tie the match at 3-3. With that match concluded all eyes turned to court three for the battle between Eichkorn and Zsilinszka.

"It's funny because she was in the exact same position last year," Ashworth said. "She was up 5-3 in the third set and ended up losing the match 7-5 in a third-set tie-breaker. When she knew it came down to her, she looked at me and started laughing. I told her 'Have fun with it, you don't get that chance very often.' I don't think she played her best at the end of the match, but she competed her best."

Eichkorn breezed through the first set 6-2 before Zsilinszka picked up her play to take the second set 6-4. Put in the identical position from her rookie season, Zsilinszka dug deep and grinded out the third set.

As nearly all 1,250 people in attendance surrounded the court, Zsilinszka grabbed the early break to go ahead 2-0. The tension in the match grew with each point as the Hurricanes and Blue Devils turned in amazing shots all over the court.

Holding a 5-4 lead with match point on the line, Zsilinszka double faulted and Eichkorn rallied to break and tie the match 5-5. Eichkorn held her serve to move in front 6-5 with Zsilinszka serving to stay in the match. Zsilinszka quickly fell behind 0-40 in the game to give the Hurricanes triple match point.

The Duke sophomore fought off Eichkorn on the next three points to make it deuce. After holding off two more match points, Zsilinszka earned her first advantage of the game and put it away to stay alive at 6-6 and send the contest into a tie-breaker.

Eichkorn grabbed the early 4-2 lead in the tie-breaker as the duo switched sides of the court. The resilience of Zsilinszka continued to show through as she rallied back to tie it at 5-5. She made it a 6-5 score on her serve and forced Eichkorn to hit it into the net on the next point to give Duke the win.

"After it was 40-love, I was thinking 'What is going to be my reaction when I lose,'" Zsilinszka said. "What am I going to do? Am I going to cry? Am I going to fall to the court? But once you start playing the point you give it everything you have. You can think whatever you want before the point, but once the ball gets going I'm going to chase down every ball. And when the pressure is on it is so hard to close it out and I tried to make her close it out. She ended up missing. I definitely got lucky. I was working hard, but I definitely got a little lucky."

Duke grabbed the early 1-0 lead as it captured the doubles point. The 16th-ranked pair of Mang and Amanda Granson grabbed a win over No. 13 Michaela Kissell and Laura Vallverdu 8-6, while No. 73 Cecil and Robinson beat Julia Cohen and Eichkorn 8-5 for the crucial point.

Miami quickly made it a 1-1 match as Kissell beat Granson at No. 4 singles. The Hurricanes briefly went in front 2-1 with a victory on court two.

Looking to remain unbeaten against conference foes, Mang held off Gabriela Mejia at No. 5, for the 6-1, 7-5 win. It was her 13th-consecutive victory and 31st of the season.

Facing the long ACC foe to have beaten her during the year, Cecil cruised to the 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 4 Cohen to give Duke the 3-2 lead and set up the nail-biting finish. Cecil's loss to Cohen on March 22 was the last time the rookie lost this season.

Duke will take a break from play as it awaits the NCAA Tournament pairings announcement. The first round of tournament play will begin on May 8 at campus sites to be determined.

#3 Duke University 4, #6 Miami 3 Apr 19, 2009 at Cary, N.C. (Cary Tennis Center)

Singles competition

1. #16 Mallory Cecil (DU) def. #4 Julia Cohen (UMW) 6-4, 6-1

2. #25 Laura Vallverdu (UMW) def. #33 Ellah Nze (DU) 6-2, 6-2

3. #39 Reka Zsilinszka (DU) def. #30 Bianca Eichkorn (UMW) 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5)

4. #50 Michaela Kissell (UMW) def. #74 Amanda Granson (DU) 6-2, 6-0

5. #115 Melissa Mang (DU) def. Gabriela Mejia (UMW) 6-1, 7-5

6. Claudia Wasilewski (UMW) def. Jessi Robinson (DU) 7-6, 0-6, 6-3

Doubles competition

1. #16 Amanda Granson/Melissa Mang (DU) def. #13 Michaela Kissell/Laura Vallverdu (UMW) 8-6

2. #73 Jessi Robinson/Mallory Cecil (DU) def. #52 Julia Cohen/Bianca Eichkorn (UMW) 8-5

3. Claudia Wasilewski/Gabriela Mejia (UMW) vs. Ellah Nze/Reka Zsilinszka (DU) unfinished

Order of finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (4,2,5,1,6,3)