Jack of all trades, master of none—after a grueling four days at the ITA Carolina Regional Championships, Duke senior Andrew Zhang proved this statement false.
Playing against the best the Carolinas had to offer, Zhang advanced to the singles semifinals Sunday in Cary, N.C., after defeating all but one of his opponents in straight sets. Head coach Ramsey Smith pointed to how the two-time team captain has developed from a dependable yet defensive counterpuncher to a well-rounded player.
“It's not just an all-defensive style—he still has that to fall back on. But he's serving bigger, his forehand has improved a ton, and you see now he's not afraid to come forward and finish points at the net. So I feel like he really has a complete game now,” Smith said.
Falling to sophomore Dusan Milanovic from Presbyterian in the semifinals, Zhang finished as one of the strongest Blue Devils of the tournament. This was not the first time that he has accomplished this feat—in fact, Zhang was the defending singles champion from last year’s Carolina Regional. This year, he added yet another feather to his cap by advancing to the doubles semifinals with senior Michael Heller after the pair fell in the second round the year prior.
The Heller-Zhang duo has history—the two have been playing together since their freshman season. This week, that chemistry showed on the court.
“Zhang is just super solid, really dependable—great returns—and Heller is a little bit flashy, he's more aggressive and more athletic. And so when Zhang is back getting really good groundstrokes, and Heller's at the net picking off balls, that's when they're playing their best tennis,” Smith said.
Zhang’s consistency and endurance served him well throughout the tournament—the senior recorded five singles and four doubles victories in the four days he played. Some of his matches with Heller lasted for two and a half hours—“almost impossible” for doubles, according to Smith.
Tiebreakers were also the name of the game. Starting from the round of 16, the senior pair played three straight third-set tiebreakers, winning 10-6 and 13-11 before losing 10-3 in the semifinals against N.C. State.
“The tiebreakers are a little bit nerve-racking, and it just comes down to a point or shot here and there in doubles,” Smith said. “The teams that play the most aggressively and play on their own terms typically have the most success—teams that play with no fear. And I really thought that Michael and Andrew did that.”
Heller and Zhang weren’t the only tiebreaking duo to watch this week. Freshman Pedro Rodenas and senior Garrett Johns also made it to the round of 16 before falling to fifth-year Maxwell Benson and Milanovic from Presbyterian. Despite the second-seeded duo starting the match strong with a 6-2 first-set win, Presbyterian retaliated with a 6-3 set and knocked the Blue Devils out with a tight 14-12 third-set tiebreaker.
Although not performing to the high expectations set at the ITA All-American Championships earlier in October, Rodenas and Johns still packed a punch. After falling behind 8-3 in their round of 16 third-set tiebreaker, the duo rushed to the finish, driving the score to 8-8. Still, the two faltered at match points.
“High-level doubles just comes down to a few things here and there, but I was really proud of how we fought back from down at three, and gave ourselves a chance. And we just felt, you know, one shot short match,” Smith said.
There’s not much time until the Blue Devils are back on the court, as they prepare to gear up for Sunday’s ATP Charlottesville Challenger and the Wake Forest Fall Invite Nov. 4-6.
“It's a really highly motivated group, and these guys love tennis,” Smith said. “We're looking to build and make some runs, and some of these last couple turns with the ball.”
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Audrey Wang is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.