No. 12 Duke men's tennis exits NCAA tournament after third-consecutive loss to No. 5 Virginia

Senior Andrew Zhang fell in straight sets to Virginia's Jeffery von der Schulenburg Saturday.
Senior Andrew Zhang fell in straight sets to Virginia's Jeffery von der Schulenburg Saturday.

Going into the NCAA Super Regional, Virginia had played, and defeated, Duke on two other occasions this season, most recently 4-1 in the ACC tournament championship game. However, one of the most difficult things to do in sports is beat the same opponent three times, especially as the 12th-seeded Blue Devils looked to keep their NCAA championship hopes alive against the No. 5 team in the country. 

Taking down Duke 4-0 in the NCAA Super Regional, Virginia did just that. In a match full of surprises, including two location changes and staggering singles matches, Duke struggled to gain any sense of momentum against the Cavaliers. With the loss, Duke’s team season is over, with just the individual NCAA tournament left for Garrett Johns and Pedro Rodenas. 

"I could not be more proud of our entire team and staff for everything we've accomplished together this year,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith told Duke Athletics after the match. “It always hurts to lose that last match, but I love this group and I've had an absolute blast coaching them. Our future is bright.”

In doubles, the 25th-ranked pairing of Johns and Rodenas struggled on court one, losing 6-3 to the talented duo of William Woodall and Inaki Montes. To make matters worse for the Blue Devils (22-7, 11-1 in the ACC), Ryan Goetz and Alexander Kiefe sealed the doubles point on court three for the Cavaliers (27-4, 12-0) with a 6-4 victory against Faris Khan and Niroop Vallabhaneni.

On court two, Andrew Zhang and Michael Heller’s match was stopped as the two were down 5-4 to Chris Rodesch and Jeffery von der Schulenburg. 

As the match moved to singles play, the imperfections of Virginia Tennis Facility at the Boar’s Head Resort were highlighted. After a lightning delay prior to doubles play, the matches moved indoors; however, courts four, five and six were ruled unplayable due to poor conditions. Thus, Connor Krug, Andrew Dale and Khan were left waiting. Midway through the first singles sets on courts one, two and three, all six matches moved back outside following around a hour-and-a-half delay. 

"It was unfortunate how things unfolded today with the circumstances regarding the playing conditions, but credit to Virginia,” Smith said. “They are a tough team, and they outplayed us today."

On court one, No. 12 Johns fell to No. 9 Rodesch 7-6, 6-4. Although reaching a tiebreak in the first set, Johns failed to sustain any momentum against his junior opponent. The defeat is Johns’ second against Rodesch in three matches this season, with the other result being undecided. 

As Johns fell in a tiebreak to Rodesch, third singles’ Zhang fought against Schulenburg in a tiebreak of his own. Like Johns, however, Zhang fell in the first set, and the senior could not rebound in the second, falling 7-6, 7-5 to extend Virginia’s lead to 3-0. 

In yet another tiebreak, this time on court six, Virginia’s Mans Dahlberg beat Khan. Snatching momentum from the struggling junior, Dahlberg would shut out Khan in the second set, winning the match 7-6, 6-0. 

As Khan’s last shot went deep, Dahlberg’s teammates stopped their matches with fists in the air to celebrate advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals. Roedenas, Krug and Dale’s matches on courts two, four and five, respectively, went unfinished against their opponents from Charlottesville, Va. 

Duke’s impressive season reached its conclusion Saturday evening; however, the team has a lot to look ahead to in the coming years. Practically, Duke’s key contributors may all return to Ambler Tennis Stadium next year — seniors Johns and Zhang both have eligibility left within the Duke program, if they choose to use it. 

With a final record of 22-7, including an ACC tournament championship berth, this Blue Devil squad will hold their heads high moving into next year. 


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