On an uncharacteristically cold and rainy February day in Durham, Duke experienced a change of scenery from Friday’s outdoor performance in Ambler Tennis Stadium to Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center Saturday. As the saying goes, however, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Blue Devils captured back-to-back 7-0 victories Friday against Boston College and Saturday against Charlotte. The 49ers’ trip to Durham represented Duke’s last nonconference opponent, and with a continued stretch of ACC play on the horizon, the Blue Devils sit at 8-4 on the year.
Early in Saturday’s contest, Duke took control on courts one and two with commanding 6-1 doubles victories on both. The first doubles pairing of Garrett Johns and Pedro Rodenas was especially impressive, securing its victory mere seconds after Connor Krug and Teddy Truwit’s success on court two to grab the doubles point. On court three, Faris Khan and Niroop Vallabhaneni were up 5-0 when the set was brought to a stoppage.
“We won both doubles points this weekend, but I was much more pleased with today,” head coach Ramsey Smith said after the matchup with Charlotte. “We played way more aggressively, and this was the style of how we want to play.”
As the season turns to ACC matchups, Duke’s doubles play is rounding into peak form. Saturday’s point capture was the fourth in a row for the Blue Devils (8-4, 1-0 in the ACC), including an impressive point at No. 2 Kentucky. In those four victories, Duke’s two top singles players, Johns and Rodenas, are undefeated.
Johns and Rodenas continued their momentum as the contest turned to singles. On courts one and two, respectively, the duo dismantled their Charlotte (4-6) counterparts. Johns took care of the 49ers’ Coy Simon 6-1, 6-2, and Rodenas outlasted Matias Iturbe 6-0, 6-3.
After being rested against Boston College (5-3, 0-2), Johns’ fire could be seen early on in his match, especially after dropping his last match against Kentucky.
“I think everyone was locked in from the beginning,” Smith said. “We got off really strong on a couple of courts. [We finished on] four courts very convincingly.”
After a flawless first set, Rodenas found himself in a second-set battle with Iturbe, but Iturbe’s missed volley at the net to fail to secure his first game of the match proved to be fatal. With the straight-set win, the freshman’s stellar debut season moved to 11-1, with his sole loss coming at Kentucky.
To close out the match, Andrew Dale and Jake Krug found themselves in third-set super tiebreakers on courts four and five. After dropping the second set 6-1, Dale fought for an 11-9 victory in the third set, while Krug also bounced back from his second-set loss with a 10-6 tiebreaker win.
It was Dale’s second tiebreaker victory in two days after Boston College’s Matt Campbell forced the junior to three sets Friday afternoon.
“It's important to win those super tiebreakers,” Smith said. “Even though the team match is over, it's important individually and collectively as a team.”
Also with impressive performances, Connor Krug and Khan brought home Duke’s fourth and fifth points of the afternoon. Playing in the third singles role, Krug topped Abhimanyu Vannemreddy 6-2, 6-2, and in sixth singles, Khan handled Brett Gloria 6-0, 6-3.
Coming to a close with a score of 7-0, Duke finished off its tough nonconference schedule on a high. As the team progresses, Smith is looking for the difficult schedule to pay dividends.
“I really think [our nonconference schedule] is going to help us moving forward,” Smith said. “It was the plan to really challenge this group. We wanted to push ourselves.”
In Friday’s match against Boston College, Duke dropped just two sets, one of which coming in the doubles round as Connor Krug and Truwit fell to the Eagles’ Mason Fung and Max Motlagh, 6-3.
“Even though we won the doubles point, it wasn't wasn't the way we wanted it,” Smith said. “We were a little careful, we were protecting a little bit.”
Especially impressive in Friday’s triumph was Vallabhaneni, as the junior did not drop a game on court six en route to a 6-0, 6-0 singles victory.
Like Friday, Saturday afternoon was an impressive performance for an experienced Blue Devils team. In all nine matches, Duke matched the intensity of a Charlotte unit hungry for a statement win, even after a 7-0 ACC victory the day before.
“I was happy with the way we took care of our bodies and were able to play better today than yesterday,” Smith said. “When we come to the ACC tournament and NCAA tournament, we need to play back-to-back-to-back.”
Next up for Duke is a second trip of the year to the state of Kentucky, this time with a Friday matchup against Louisville on the horizon.
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