Duke men's tennis emerges as undefeated champion in ITA Kickoff Weekend

<p>Duke continued its hot start to the spring season with a dominant showing over the weekend.</p>

Duke continued its hot start to the spring season with a dominant showing over the weekend.

Duke continued its impressive start to the new season with back-to-back 4-0 wins against No. 23 N.C. State and Middle Tennessee during the ITA Kickoff Weekend. With these dominant victories, the Blue Devils moved on to the National Team Indoor Champions in New York for the first time since 2018. 

“I’m just really proud of the team,” head coach Ramsey Smith said after the matches. “I thought we competed extremely well and [I’m] just happy to be going to New York.”

Both against the Wolfpack and the Blue Raiders, Duke (5-0) started off strong, setting the tone for the encounters with two comfortable 2-0 wins in doubles play. The graduate student duo of Michael Heller and Andrew Zhang continued to display outstanding chemistry and teamwork, winning both of their doubles matches by 6-4 and 6-2 scores. Meanwhile, senior Faris Khan and junior Connor Krug teamed up to clinch the doubles point against N.C. State, while Garrett Johns and No. 21 Pedro Rodenas did the same against Middle Tennessee. 

In singles play, Rodenas bounced back after a rough showing last time around, emphatically defeating both the Wolfpack’s Fons Van Sambeek and the Blue Raiders’ No. 47 Marcel Kamrowski in straight sets. The Spanish sophomore was dominant on his serve throughout the weekend, while crushing his opponents with his powerful forehand and precise backhand. The presence of fellow 2023 All-American Garrett Johns means Rodenas has been confined to court two so far this season, but Smith has made it clear that he sees both guys as No. 1 players. 

“It’s a great opportunity to have two players at that level,” Smith said. “I told them before our first match that they’re two of the better players we’ve ever had come through the program [who just] happen to be here at the exact same time. They’re both number one players, but there’s only one number one spot. But the great thing about both of them is their team-first mindset. They’re [always] gonna do what we think is best to help the team.”

Beyond the central courts, Zhang cemented himself as not only a great doubles player but also one of the most lethal singles stars on the team. Battling it out on court three, the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., native easily defeated his N.C. State rival in straight sets, and was a set ahead when his match against Middle Tennessee was halted once the Blue Devils clinched the victory. Meanwhile, twins Connor and Jake Krug also left an impression on coaches and spectators alike, winning comfortably in straight sets against their Blue Raider foes on courts four and six, respectively. 

While Duke put out the same doubles and singles lineups during both matches, Smith made it clear that he plans to capitalize on his team’s depth and that his starters are not set in stone. 

“We have a lot of guys that can play,” he said. “Again, the great thing about this team is [that] it’s a team-first mindset and all ten guys play a role. Regardless of [who’s] playing, not playing, singles, doubles, it’s a really unified team effort and that’s what you need to win.”

Next up, the Blue Devils will hope to build on their exciting start as they head to the Midwest for a double-header against Illinois and Northwestern Saturday and Monday, respectively. 


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