May 25, 2009

COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Duke University freshman Mallory Cecil capped off her stellar rookie season today, defeating Miami’s Laura Vallverdu 7-5, 6-4 to win the NCAA Women’s Tennis Singles Championship. Cecil is the second player in Duke women’s tennis history to win the NCAA individual crown and just the fifth in ACC history.

Cecil becomes just the 14th women’s tennis player in NCAA history and first in ACC history to win both a team national title and individual crown in the same season and the first to do so since 2004. She is the seventh freshman in NCAA  history to take home the title with the most recent coming in 2005. Vanessa Webb captured the individual championship for Duke in 1998. This is Cecil's second national title in a week after she helped guide the Blue Devils to the team title on May 19.

“I told Jamie [Ashworth, Duke head coach] just outside that I feel like I should have another match tomorrow,” Cecil said. “It feels amazing. Just like with the team, words can’t describe how much fight and heart went into this for me, and for me to be out here representing my team and representing Duke, I couldn’t ask for more.”

“I don’t want to leave here,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I told [Texas A&M Women’s Head Coach Bobby Kleinecke] that I wanted to cut a piece of the net off and take it with us, and he asked us if we could please not cut the net up.”

The opening set was an evenly fought battle. Cecil and Vallverdu held serve through six games, which included the Duke rookie fighting off various break points in the sixth game to keep the match tied at three apiece.

After holding her serve and fighting through numerous deuces, Cecil came right back and did the same to Vallverdu. Winning advantage, Cecil fired a backhand deep into the corner to force Vallverdu to miss her shot down the line wide and give Duke the early break to go up 4-3.

Game eight proved to be much of the same as Cecil fell behind 15-40. The Spartanburg, S.C., native fought off three break points and Vallverdu sent a shot just long to give Duke a 5-3 lead in the set.

Vallverdu came back in the next game and held easily to make it a 5-4 score. Looking to close out the set on her serve, Cecil fell behind 30-0 early. She battled back to tie the score 30-30, but Vallverdu took the final two points to tie the set at five games apiece.

Cecil came right back and went up 40-0 and broke Vallverdu for the second time in the match to go ahead 6-5. Facing a chance to close out the set for a second time, she won the final three points of the game to take a 1-0 lead in the match at 7-5.

“When [Vallverdu] played Chelsey out there, Chelsey was really flat,” Cecil said. “I definitely feel like I have more spin than she (Vallverdu) does. I like to hit some angles, too, just like she does, but today, Jamie kept telling me to move my feet and stay inside that baseline. She likes to stay right up on that baseline, so by me staying up there with her and just pushing in with her, trying to push her back, I thought that was really key.”

The two both held serve in the first two games, but Cecil took over in the third game and never looked back. After breaking Vallverdu’s serve in the third game with a cross-court backhand winner, she cruised her way to a 5-1 lead.

Vallverdu would not give up as she held serve and broke to make it a 5-3 score in the second set. With Miami serving to stay in the match, Cecil grabbed a 40-30 lead to set up championship point. Vallverdu fought off that initial match point and two others to stay alive at 5-4 in the second set.

After dropping three straight games, Cecil regained her composure and raced out to a 40-15 lead to set up championship point. She put Vallverdu on her heels right away, forcing the Hurricane to stay behind the baseline. Cecil’s deep shot forced Vallverdu’s return long of the baseline to give Cecil the national title.

“I kept thinking about yesterday when [Vallverdu] as 5-2 with [Georgia’s Chelsey Gullickson] and came back and ended up winning that set,” Cecil said. “I knew she was going to keep going and not just roll over. Once I got up 5-1, I played a couple of loose points. I wasn’t swinging really and I stopped moving my feet.  I definitely tightened up. In that last game, the sun was really in my eyes so I was just trying to get that serve in, keep going for my shots, just not even think about the score in the games at this point and just try and finish it out.”

Cecil closes out her season with a 32-4 record, marking the 46th time in program history a Blue Devil has eclipsed the 30-wins mark. Her 32 victories are tied for 32nd all-time. Playing No. 1 all season for Duke, she helped guide the Blue Devils to the team championship a week ago. Duke finished the season 29-3 this season on its way to becoming national champions.

“For Mallory through this week and the team before, I don’t think we could have asked for a better two weeks,” Ashworth said. “It has been so much fun. I can’t believe it’s over. It was so much fun with the group of girls that we had and just seeing the ride that (Mallory) was on. I’ll go home and kind of reflect a little bit and take some time, and hopefully she can do the same and enjoy everything that she’s accomplished. It’s been an unbelievable freshman year for her and an unbelievable year for the whole group.”