The 20th-ranked Blue Devils are kicking off the 2023 campaign on the right foot.
Duke won its first dual match of the season, defeating Hawaii 7-0. Moreover, the Blue Devils swept every set against the Rainbow Warriors to begin the season 1-0.
During its trip to Hawaii, Duke (1-0) first competed Jan. 9 in the Hawaii Invitational, a three-team tournament featuring Hawaii and California. In the event, Duke went 6-6 overall, getting three wins in both singles and doubles. Following the invitational, Duke faced Hawaii Tuesday, when it swept the Rainbow Warriors.
“We talked about needing to make some improvements,” said head coach Ramsey Smith following the invitational. “I thought [the match against Hawaii] was a big step up.”
It was a tale of two days for the team, as Duke was able to bounce back after some tough losses Monday. One of these examples was the top seed for the Blue Devils, senior Garrett Johns. After falling to Yuta Kikuchi of California in a third-set super tiebreaker 7-5, 4-6, 1-0 (10-5), he bounced back to defeat reigning Big West Player of the Year Andrew Ilagan of Hawaii 6-2, 7-5.
“He didn't do a great job mentally against [California] but he was just rock solid today,” said Smith. “It’s all about how you bounce back and he's our leader on the tennis court so it was huge for him to step out like that.”
Junior Niroop Vallabhaneni and sophomore Jake Krug were both defeated in tiebreakers Monday as well but followed those losses up with singles victories against the Rainbow Warriors. Rounding out Duke’s sweep in singles were freshman Pedro Rodenas, sophomore Connor Krug and senior Faris Khan.
“I just felt like all six guys in singles competed well, came out ready to play, and took care of business,” said Smith.
A theme in Hawaii was Duke’s success in doubles. In six doubles matches played over the course of two days, the Blue Devils only lost once.
“I was extremely happy about our doubles, because that's something we've been really focusing on,” said Smith. “If we can consistently win doubles, I think we can win three singles matches against anyone in the country.”
The No. 1 doubles team of seniors Michael Heller and Andrew Zhang won their first match of the season, defeating Ilagen and Karl Collins of Hawaii 6-2. Heller paired up with Connor Krug to defeat California’s Alex Chang and Derrick Chen 6-2 as well.
“[Heller is] arguably our best doubles player; when he's healthy and in the right mindset he's been tremendous,” said Smith.
Two other victorious doubles pairings were Johns and Rodenas, the top two singles players, along with Vallabhaneni and Khan.
“We’ve had some consistency with the pairings … we have a lot of options for doubles,” said Smith.
The Blue Devils will look to build on this victory as they return home for a three-match homestand. This will begin Friday against Memphis, followed by Sunday against No. 16 Harvard and North Carolina Central.
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.