Last season, Duke fans joyfully watched as the men’s basketball team put on an excellent showing in the NCAA tournament, reaching the coveted Final Four. Garrett Johns had a similar performance as one of the last four standing at the premier national fall tennis tournament.
The Blue Devil senior was the top seed at the ITA National Fall Championships in San Diego, the final tournament of the fall college season. In addition to Johns, Andrew Zhang and Michael Heller played doubles representing Duke.
Johns won three main draw matches before falling to Eliot Spizzirri of Texas in the semifinals (0-6, 6-4, 3-6). Two of these wins were in grueling three-set affairs, demonstrating his perseverance.
“To be honest, it's not surprising,” said head coach Ramsey Smith. “It's just a continuation of what he's been doing week in and week out, day in and day out. He just has been unbelievably consistent with his training and his preparation. It’s exciting to see him stepping up at the biggest stage where he belongs right now.”
Last month, Johns had a successful showing at the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla., reaching the quarterfinals before losing to Spizzirri. This tournament caps off a great season for Johns, who has solidified himself as one of the top players in the country.
In addition to reaching the semifinals of the tournament, Johns was unanimously voted to receive the Sportsmanship Award.
“It just shows the respect that he's gained from his peers and from the officials,” said Smith. “Sportsmanship is one of the things that we focus and pride ourselves on, and to win that award at the biggest stage is really impressive. I’m incredibly proud of him for that and his performance.”
Zhang and Heller won their first-round doubles match before falling to Alexander Jong and Lui Maxted of TCU (6-7, 4-6). Jong and Maxted were tough opponents, as they were eventual finalists.
“They really played good tennis in both matches,” said Smith. “We've been focusing on bringing the energy, playing aggressive and playing together. And those two do it better than anyone.”
In addition to ITA Nationals, the Blue Devils had three representatives at the Gator Fall Invite in Gainesville, Fla. Twins Connor Krug and Jake Krug along with Andrew Dale competed in both singles and doubles action. All three players won their first-round singles matches, and Jake Krug recorded his first ever win over a nationally ranked player, defeating Jan Galka of Auburn.
“The field there was extremely strong but everyone came out with impressive wins,” said Smith. “Overall, I felt like it was a good tournament with a lot of good opportunities and the guys competed well.”
Day two of the tournament saw both Krug twins notch additional singles wins, as Jake defeated Antonio Prat of Miami and Connor defeated Tanappat Nirundorn of Florida. All three Blue Devils were defeated in the final consolation round Sunday.
On the doubles side, an injury to Duke’s Faris Khan left Connor Krug to compete alongside Will Grant of Florida. Jake Krug and Dale competed together, and both tandems fell Sunday.
These two tournaments marked the official end to the fall season for the team, which will look to carry this momentum into the spring.
“Overall, it's definitely a successful fall season,” Smith said. “I think for sure, the highlight is Garrett. It gives everyone confidence knowing that we have a number one player that can win against anybody.”
Smith explained that the doubles competition in the fall allowed for him to find pairs that worked well together, something he hopes to use in the spring season. Although this is the end of the collegiate season, numerous Blue Devils will compete unaffiliated in the professional circuit for the rest of the fall.
Next up for Duke players will be the ITF men’s tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C., beginning Monday as Johns and freshman Pedro Rodenas will play as seeded players. Smith hopes that other Blue Devils will qualify for the tournament as well.
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