Duke men's tennis picks up top-20 win in thrilling road finale at North Carolina

Pedro Rodenas leaps for a backhand during a 6-2, 6-2 win Saturday against North Carolina's Ryan Seggerman.
Pedro Rodenas leaps for a backhand during a 6-2, 6-2 win Saturday against North Carolina's Ryan Seggerman.

CHAPEL HILL—On an uncharacteristically gloomy April afternoon, the energy of a Duke-North Carolina showdown was a warm welcome, as the bleachers and chairs were not sufficient to seat a packed crowd inside Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center. 

The Tar Heels and Blue Devils each boast top-20 men’s tennis programs, and Saturday’s match certainly lived up to expectations. In the end, No. 16 Duke bested No. 13 North Carolina in a nail-biter 5-2. 

“It feels great … definitely feels sweet to get a big win on the road like this,” said head coach Ramsey Smith. “I’ve been so pleased with how consistent we've been coming out, match in and match out, with our energy, intensity and mental toughness.”

The Blue Devils (16-5, 9-1 in the ACC) came out strong from the beginning, jumping out to leads in all three doubles matches. In particular, the No. 3 doubles tandem of freshman Teddy Truwit and sophomore Connor Krug played strong. They immediately broke serve on the first game of the set and never looked back, emerging victorious 6-1 and setting the tone for the match. 

“Teddy and Connor were awesome,” said Smith. “I feel like they raise their level for the bigger matches and I’m just excited to see the level that they brought today.”

The other two doubles matches went down to the wire, and each was tied 5-5. Seniors Andrew Zhang and Michael Heller were up 5-2, but North Carolina’s second-seeded doubles team of Will Jansen and Karl Poling fought back, earning two breaks to tie the match up.

In addition, Duke’s top pairing of senior Garrett Johns and freshman Pedro Rodenas was in a battle with the 14th-ranked tandem of Ryan Seggerman and Casey Kania.  

However, immediately after this, Zhang and Heller broke back, and a volley into the net by the Tar Heels (15-7, 7-3) gave the Blue Devils the doubles point. Zhang and Heller emerged victorious 7-5, and Duke took a 1-0 lead in the match. 

“I thought we played really well at all three double spots, I felt like we outplayed one of the best teams in the country,” said Smith. “I thought we did a really good job of using the momentum and really dialing in for singles matches.”

The singles slate was equally electric, and it was anybody’s game in the tightly contested match. 

The star of the show continues to be Rodenas, who built on his elite conference play with a victory against Seggerman. The reigning ACC Player of the Week was the first Blue Devil to win the first set. The lefty used his elite forehand and crafty shotmaking to propel past Seggerman, easily winning the match 6-2, 6-2 and increasing the Duke lead to 2-0. 

“It's hard to really explain how important he has been for us,” said Smith of Rodenas. “He's been so consistent, he embraces the team environment, he steps up in the bigger moments. … To beat [Seggerman] 6-2, 6-2 indoors at UNC, I'm not really quite sure how he did that.”

Another left-handed player, junior Andrew Dale, was red-hot coming into the contest, having won 10 out of his past 11 singles matches. Dale took the first set from Tar Heel sophomore Chris Li 6-4. 

Johns broke early in the match and used this to propel himself to a 7-5 first-set victory, and four Blue Devils won their first sets. Just as it appeared as if it was Duke’s match to lose, North Carolina completely flipped the momentum. 

Will Jansen made quick work of Zhang 6-1, 6-2, and after dropping the first set, Poling took the second from Connor Krug 6-2. Jake Krug lost in No. 6 singles to Benjamin Kittlay 6-4, 6-4. All of a sudden, the match was knotted up at 2-2, and fans walked anxiously from court to court to witness what would be an exciting finish. 

Meanwhile, on court one, Johns and Brian Cernoch were knotted up 3-3 in the second set, but Duke’s top player earned a crucial break to take a 4-3 lead. Johns’ solid groundstrokes were on full display, and at 5-4, the Atlanta native eyed a match point at deuce. An elite serve forced an error from Cernoch, and Duke took a 3-2 lead, needing just one more victory to clinch the match. 

“[Johns] has really recommitted to his mental game. He's had great practice and when he has great practice, he has great matches,” said Smith. “Everytime [Cernoch] made a move or broke back, there's no panic. Garrett just went back to work and he's such an important part of our team and he's such a leader for us.”

Li opened the second set 2-0 against Dale, but a fiery backhand return followed by an emotional celebration gave Dale a key break of serve. Nevertheless, Li persevered and won 6-3 in that set. Both this match and Connor Krug’s against Poling were headed to third sets. 

Poling quickly jumped ahead 5-2, but Krug was determined to come back. The big-serving sophomore fought his way back and won three games in a row. At 6-5 with Krug returning, the game went to deuce, meaning the following point was a match point for Duke. 

In a fitting ending, a Poling backhand missed the line by inches and Krug was swarmed by fellow Blue Devils, marking the end of an admirable victory against a top team. After this concluded, Dale took the third set from Li 6-2 to finish the match.

“I feel really good about where we are as a team,” said Smith. “The whole focus has been to be playing our best tennis at the end of the season, which we're obviously getting towards that point.”

Duke will conclude its ACC slate next week with respective home dates Friday and Sunday against Miami and Florida State.


Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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