Duke enters 2023 looking to build on a strong 2022 season that included an impressive 17-9 overall record and a stellar 11-3 record at home. The Blue Devils have now been rewarded for this success with a top-20 ITA preseason ranking. What’s more, the team has retained most of its talent from last year. Of the student-athletes who competed in Duke’s final dual match of 2022 against Tennessee, only Sean Sculley and Edu Guell will not be returning this season.
However, not all was sunshine and rainbows for Duke last year, as the team underperformed in tournament play. Despite its strong regular season, Duke was bounced in its first matchup of the ACC tournament by Clemson and won only one dual match at the NCAA tournament before suffering a 4-1 loss to Tennessee. The Blue Devils also struggled away from the familiar confines of Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center and Ambler Tennis Stadium. The team’s away record was a paltry 4-5, a far cry from its dominant record at home.
Duke will receive major help in tournament play this year with the additions of freshmen Pedro Rodenas and Teddy Truwit. Rodenas already has an ITF Men’s Singles 15K Futures Title under his belt, and Truwit was ranked No. 20 nationally among recruits and captured an ITF Boys’ Singles J4 Title in 2021. Look for both to make significant contributions throughout the spring season.
Duke’s stirring 2022 campaign, 2023 preseason ranking and highly acclaimed freshman class demonstrate that expectations are high for the Blue Devils this year. If the team can better translate its regular-season success into deep runs in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, then 2023 could be a breakthrough year for Duke. -Robert Miron
New player to watch: Pedro Rodenas
Rodenas is already coming into his first season with numerous accolades. Prior to his arrival at Duke, the Madrid native competed in the International Tennis Federation’s Junior Circuit, including at the 2022 Wimbledon Junior Championships. At this event, Rodenas reached the semifinals in both the Boys’ Singles and Boys’ Doubles draws while competing with fellow Spaniard Martin Landaluce.
In the fall, Rodenas compiled a record of 5-3 and had a standout performance at the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla. He won three qualifying matches to earn his way into the main draw, becoming one of only four freshmen to achieve this feat. In the ITA singles rankings, Rodenas is listed at No. 84, second only to Johns on the Duke team. Rodenas will most likely compete in the No. 2 singles position, which will be key to the Blue Devils' success.
“[Rodenas] certainly had some ups and downs, but his good was really good. And I think the future is very bright for him,” said head coach Ramsey Smith this fall. -Ranjan Jindal
Returning player to watch: Michael Heller
Johns has been phenomenal during the fall and has cemented himself as one of the best players in the country. But for the Blue Devils to make a run in both the ACC tournament and beyond, they will need to get wins across multiple lines. Doubles would be a key opportunity for this, and senior Michael Heller is primed for an elite season.
Heller and fellow senior Andrew Zhang are the team’s highest-ranked doubles team, coming in at No. 49. They already have had success in the fall in both the ITA Carolina Regional Championships and the ITA National Fall Championships, earning a 5-2 record.
“Heller seems to bring out the best in Zhang. He brings a lot of energy, he keeps it light, he makes it fun and Andrew seems to play his best doubles when they're paired up together,” said Smith.
After missing much of the previous season due to injury, Heller also could play a significant role in singles, as he was the No. 6 singles player in the 2020-2021 season, recording a 7-5 record. He only played three singles matches last year due to injury, but look for the Boca Raton, Fla., native to play more singles this year and contribute in multiple ways. -Jindal
Most anticipated matchup: April 8 vs. North Carolina
The longstanding rivalry between Duke and North Carolina serves as enough reason for this to be the most anticipated matchup. Last year, Duke beat North Carolina for the first time since 2014. There will be extra motivation this year for the Blue Devils to not let the Tar Heels take the upper hand again.
By then, the regular season will be coming to a close, and Duke will have an important matchup to test itself before the postseason begins. Duke and North Carolina are ranked close to one another in preseason rankings. Just by history alone, this matchup is worth looking at, but the competitive matchup this year makes this one worth watching. -Suresh Kannoth
Duke’s 17-9 record in 2022 included five losses by two points or less. As a result, there is an argument that the Blue Devils were fairly close to a more dominant regular-season showing that would have resulted in higher seeding in the end-of-year tournaments. If Duke can come out on top in more tight matchups during the regular season and make deeper runs in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, then a 20-6 record and a quarterfinals appearance in the NCAA tournament do not seem out of the question. -Miron
Duke’s strong 2022 and new additions give a lot for fans to be positive about. However, the Blue Devils could always suffer tough losses and end up with a record that is worse than last year, around .500. While Duke made it to the second round last season in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments, it could find itself with a worse record and disappointing early exits if it does not emphasize consistency throughout the entire season. -Kannoth
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.