Duke enters its spring season primed and ready to improve on what was a rather disappointing 2021 effort. While the team did make the NCAA tournament, it was quickly bounced in the first round by South Florida. The Blue Devils only finished one match above .500 and won only one match in the ACC Championship.
However, all signs point to the team taking a significant step forward this year. The Blue Devils added freshman brothers Connor and Jake Krug, the eighth and 19th ranked recruits, respectively, in the country for 2021. Graduate students Doug Macintosh from Davidson and ITA All-American Arturo Kam from Williams joined the squad as well, and the team boasts one of its deepest rosters in many years.
“We have a lot of depth. We have 11 guys that can all play in the starting six,” said head coach Ramsey Smith.
The top two players in the lineup—Garrett Johns and Andrew Zhang—also look set to have a successful 2022 season. In 2021, Johns earned a spot in the NCAA Doubles Championship and was a second-team all ACC honoree, and Zhang earned a 13-5 record in singles and 14-6 mark in doubles.
“Both those guys have stepped up. Garrett has been established as a nationally ranked player, and Andrew has been a very solid point for us”.
With a combination of fresh new faces and strong returning talent, Duke looks well prepared to put more wins on the board and make a deeper run in the NCAA tournament as it heads into a much-anticipated 2022 spring season. -Robert Miron
New player(s) to watch: Connor/Jake Krug
In case you didn’t know, Dick Vitale’s grandsons are on the team. Oh, and they’re both top-20 recruits, with Connor coming in at No. 8 overall and Jake checking in at No. 19. The Krug brothers are finally here, and they’re ready to make an impact.
It’s not a reach to see either (or even both) of them play in the Blue Devils’ singles lineup; especially Connor, who defeated teammates Garrett Johns and Faris Khan en route to a berth in the semifinals of the ITA Carolina Regional in the fall. But perhaps more interestingly, Smith alluded to the twins potentially playing doubles together as well. And with Connor and Jake standing at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5, respectively, that would make for an intimidating duo for the opposition.
“The Krugs have been building chemistry their whole life…. [They] have all the tools to be a really, really good doubles team,” Smith said. -Evan Kolin
Returning player to watch: Andrew Zhang
Johns will likely begin the season at the No. 1 singles spot, where he spent virtually all of last season. It’s Zhang’s improvement, however, that could bring Duke to the next level.
The Bloomfield Hills, Mich., native spent much of last year at the No. 3 and No. 4 singles spots but had perhaps the best fall of any Blue Devil, with the highlight of that fall coming at the ITA Carolina Regional. There, Zhang became the fifth individual in Duke history to win the singles title and the first since 2011, a run that included an upset of 16th-ranked Connor Thomson of South Carolina. Smith says Zhang has grabbed hold of the No. 2 singles spot entering the season, and could be in for an exciting spring campaign. -Kolin
Duke has still not made it past the first round of the NCAA tournament since 2015 and past the ACC tournament quarterfinals since 2014. It looked like the Blue Devils had a shot at breaking both of those streaks when they started 13-2 in 2020, but then the season was infamously cut short by COVID-19.
If Johns and Zhang can hold their own at the top, this team has the potential to finish with a top-15 ranking and a berth in the ACC semifinals/NCAA tournament Round of 16. But that may be asking a lot for a team with as much youth as this one. -Kolin
Duke struggled with consistency in 2021, especially in big tournaments. Although the team boasts a stellar roster, the Blue Devils could still struggle to string together enough wins to put them solidly above .500 and build momentum going into the ACC and NCAA tournaments. If the team can’t escape these issues which plagued them last year, it could post another lackluster regular season record and make an early NCAA tournament exit. -Miron
Most anticipated matchup: March 16 vs. North Carolina
Duke clearly aims to build momentum over the course of the year so that the team is in peak form when the late season tournaments come around.
“We’re building for the long term and we want to be playing our best tennis in April and May,” Smith said.
With that in mind, the March 16 rivalry matchup against North Carolina on Duke's home court will help show the Blue Devils whether they are on track to reach that goal with about four weeks left before the ACC tournament rolls around. Furthermore, any Duke-North Carolina matchup is bound to be a tense and much-anticipated affair, as the animosity between the two schools certainly extends beyond Cameron Indoor Stadium. -Miron
Kolin: 16-7 (8-4 in the ACC), loss in ACC quarterfinals, loss in NCAA Round of 32
Miron: 17-6 (8-4 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA Round of 16
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