Tennis

Syracuse blitzed by No. 14 Duke, losing 5 of 6 singles matches in 5-2 loss

Codie Yan | Staff Photographer

Anna Shkudun felt as well as she has all season, but it still wasn't enough to secure a win in her single's match.

Syracuse was on track for an upset of No. 14 Duke. After only about 45 minutes of starting doubles play, SU had snagged the point in what head coach Younes Limam called one of the “best” doubles performances of the season. The pairs of Gabriela Knutson and Miranda Ramirez and Anna Shkudun and Dina Hegab each raced out to 4-1 leads.

“We played really confident and aggressive today,” Shkudun said, “and I think it was a big opportunity for us.”

Eventually, the top two pairings went on to win, 6-2 and 6-3, respectively.

But the early match dominance was brief, as the Blue Devils (17-3, 11-0 Atlantic Coast) blitzed the Orange (7-12, 4-8), 5-2. Duke controlled singles, winning five of the six matches, including four straight-set wins. The final blow to SU’s hopes came when Shkudun couldn’t wrap her racket around No. 50 Chalena Scholl’s shot and Shkudun’s looping return found the net, clinching the match for the Blue Devils.

“(Duke’s) a team that hasn’t lost a conference match,” Limam said. “They came in with a lot of confidence and I thought we did a great job of fighting back, and it wasn’t enough today.”

While Knutson and Ramirez displayed their usual prowess in No. 1 doubles, running out to a lead, Shkudun and Hegab showed some newfound aggression together. Serves had a little more “oomph” while the duo played crisply at the net.

Shkudun’s surgically repaired knee seemed to finally be a non-factor as she and Hegab agreed her mobility was the best it’s been all year. The Ukrainian exhibited her full mobility when a lofty shot forced her to turn and give chase. She turned and reached her mark just in front of the green tarp backing before firing a clean return — her racket scraping along the barrier.

But whatever spark or edge Syracuse had in doubles evaporated in singles. Libi Mesh quickly found herself down 0-5, No. 80 Knutson was dominated in the first set of No. 2 singles, losing 0-6, and Shkudun quickly trailed.

“She was just killing it,” Shkudun said of her opponent, Scholl.

Hegab was able to inch out to a modest 2-1 lead by getting up to the net and snuffing out points quickly. But her opponent, Alyssa Smith, rapidly put Hegab in a hole, before taking the first set, 6-3.

Later on in Hegab’s second set, she sat next to her usual courtside companion, volunteer assistant coach, Len Lopoo. Hegab’s head hung below her shoulders, a towel draped over her lap. In that moment, down 4-1, she told Lopoo that even though she wasn’t peaking, she needed to find a path to victory. Eventually, Smith dispatched Hegab, 6-3, 6-1.

After the match, another issue became clear. Hegab stood with a trainer, a massive bag of ice being applied to her right shoulder.

“My shoulder was hurting a little bit today,” Hegab said, “so I wasn’t able to hit my forehands like I always do.”

After not even standing a chance in her first set, losing 1-6, Shkudun made the second closer. She caught a few breaks from Scholl in the form of unforced errors, and after facing match point twice, the score was 5-5. A tactical adjustment, playing her opponent to her backhand rather than forehand, was paying off for Shkudun.

But despite moving better than ever, Shkudun couldn’t muster whatever points she needed for a third set. With Hegab watching from the parallel court, Scholl defeated Shkudun thanks to two clutch points and a meager wave of momentum , 6-1, 7-5.

Though Ramirez was able to gut out SU’s lone singles victory (3-6, 6-2, 6-4 over No. 73 Samantha Harris), Duke had won the first five singles matches, four in straight sets, to secure the win.

“We just didn’t win matches,” Hegab said.

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