The last time the Michigan women’s tennis team defeated Duke, none of the players on the Wolverines’ roster had been born. Over seven program matchups against the Blue Devils, Michigan’s lone victory came during the 1983-84 season.
On Friday night, the No. 13 Wolverines had a chance to clinch a coveted second defeat of the Blue Devils and avenge last year’s 4-0 loss at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
But beating No. 2 Duke, a formidable opponent featuring five nationally ranked singles players, would be no small feat.
Despite the daunting odds, the Wolverines, coming off a 7-0 shutout of rivals Michigan State on Wednesday, had the momentum on their side and believed that they could compete with anyone. It showed on Friday night, as Michigan beat Duke, 4-3 — the highest ranked opponent the Wolverines have ever beaten.
Michigan’s confidence was immediately evident on the court. The dual match began with three eight-game doubles matches worth the overall match’s first point. Sophomore Emina Bektas and junior Brooke Bolender, the nation’s No. 3 ranked doubles combination, were playing No. 1 doubles for the Wolverines and taking on Duke’s No. 10 pairing of Ester Goldfeld and Mary Clayton.
A crowd of Michigan faithful intently watched Bektas take the first serve. In convincing fashion, she scored an ace, giving Michigan an early lead in the first game of the night. Although the match was far from over, Bektas’ first serve made a statement. Michigan had come ready to play.
Michigan’s doubles teams continued to dominate. Bektas and Bolender clinched the first victory of the night, 8-1, while freshman Ronit Yurovksy and sophomore Sarah Lee prevailed with an equally overpowering 8-2 finish to capture the first team point for Michigan.
“I think doubles was really big for us,” Bektas said. “We came out here firing and believing that we could win.”
This confidence allowed Michigan to continue their strong performance, as Bektas, Bolender, Lee and freshman Amy Zhu all won their first sets, 6-4,6-4, 6-3, and 6-2 respectively.
Singles competition didn’t begin as well for Yurovsky, Michigan’s top ranked player, who had won her last thirteen straight singles competitions. The crowd cheered her on as she became visibly frustrated, dropping the first three games to competitor Goldfeld.
“I fight and I don’t give up,” Yurovsky said. “So, being down in the first set 3-0, I just tried to block out the score.”
Indeed, Yurovsky fought back valiantly, winning the next six games straight to seal the set at 6-3.
After Michigan’s dominant performance in the first set, Duke proved why they are one of the nation’s best teams by battling back resiliently, as Bolender, Lee, and Yurovsky were each defeated in the second set.
Duke’s Marainne Jodoin defeated Michigan senior Mimi Nguyen after two sets, including a hard-fought first set that ended in a tie-breaker.
Meanwhile, Lee fell to Duke’s Clayton in the third set, 6-2.
But the Wolverines remained strong. Zhu and Bektas continued their stellar performances, giving Michigan its next two points.
Zhu won her hard-fought second set 6-4, while Bektas was dominant, winning her set, 6-2, against Duke’s top player, No. 13 Hanna Mar.
With the dual match score at 3-2, everything was on the line for Yurovksy and Bolender.
The end seemed near as Yurovksy won five games to put the set nearly out of reach at 5-1. But once again the Blue Devils showed their endurance, as Goldfard came back to tie the score 5-5.
“I told Brooke (Bolender) there…‘It might come down to you,’ ” said Michigan head coach Ronni Bernstein.
The atmosphere in the Varsity Tennis Center became tense, as supporters tried to animate the tiring players with their cheers. Finally, as the night drew on, Yurovksy won two straight games to settle the set, 7-5, and seal the Wolverines’ long sought-after win against the Blue Devils.
Bolender fought hard, but lost her third set 6-3, giving Michigan a final team score of 4-3.
“We had our backs up against the wall towards the end there, and we stayed there and we kept fighting,” Bernstein said. “To me it means that we have people that believe in themselves and we can play with any program…Duke’s one of the best, obviously, and we beat them today.”