Duke men's tennis finds final gear, takes down VCU in season opener as Krug seals win in final set

Pedro Rodenas, who helped Duke win the doubles point, retired during his singles match.
Pedro Rodenas, who helped Duke win the doubles point, retired during his singles match.

It was an exciting start of the season for Duke, as the team won its first match against a competitive VCU team Saturday. The Blue Devils managed to pull through 4-3 after junior Jake Krug won the tie-breaking game in a crucial third set, coming back after losing the first set 6-0, despite the retirement of star sophomore Pedro Rodenas. 

“It was great to get a team win, n ot the normal first match of the year,” said head coach Ramsey Smith. “I wanted to really challenge the team to start, maybe not quite this much, but just being in these pressure situations early on.”

It was certainly a tough matchup for Duke (1-0) as the team won by the minimum, despite its early lead. The Blue Devils had a good start to the match after beating the Rams (0-1) in doubles. On court 1, redshirt senior Garrett Johns and Rodenas managed to hold off a break-point early to give Duke the 6-4 win. This was followed by another 6-4 victory on court 3 where junior Connor Krug and senior Faris Khan sealed the deal with an ace to secure the doubles point ahead of the singles matches. 

“A lot of respect for VCU, their players, their coaching staff, they just competed really really well and they pushed us in a lot of areas,” said head coach Ramsey Smith. “Ultimately it was great to see Jake finish things off, a big win for him.”

Once the singles component began, graduate student Andrew Zhang and Johns broke twice to win the first set 6-2 and 6-3 against their respective opponents. This was followed by impressive 7-5 first-set wins by both Rodenas on court 2 and senior Andrew Dale on court 5 to give Duke a solid advantage ahead of second-set play.

After their first-set victories, Zhang and Garret Johns played remarkable defense as they both managed to break serve and gain a lead. Zhang capped off the match with an impressive 6-4 win in the second set, while Johns finished with a 6-4 to give Duke a 3-1 lead following Connor Krug’s defeat on court 4. The Blue Devils only needed one more match to win the face-off, and of the three games remaining, it was Rodenas’ matchup that was catching most of the attention on court 2.

After winning the first set 7-5 by using the drop shot to repeatedly place VCU’s Mathis Bondaz in uncomfortable positions, Rodenas trailed 3-2 in the second set. A series of long-rallies was starting to take a toll on both players, and Rodenas capitalized on the fatigue by successfully breaking serve and tying the set at 6-6. Just when Rodenas seemed to be gaining momentum and was up 3-1 in the tie-break, however, Bondaz injured his wrist causing the match to stop.  Bondaz recovered and won the set, leading to a make-or-break third set that was cut short after Rodenas struggled with an apparent foot injury. The Madrid, Spain, native was forced to retire, giving VCU hope as the score was now 3-2. 

“It looked like maybe the match was just over and Pedro was on that side of the court kind of feeling sorry for his opponent,” Smith said. “And then his opponent came back to life and then Pedro started dealing with some physical things. I’m not worried about his game at all, just on the physical side of things, hopefully we’ll get him back.”

After dropping serve in the third set, Dale was unable to come up on top which now meant that it was up to Jake Krug to give Duke its first win of the nascent season amid a 3-3 scoreline. After going down 6-0 in the first set, Krug was able to rally back by winning a tough second-set 7-5, and lead 6-5 in the match-deciding final frame with the serve in hand. 

“These are the moments we work for, we worked hard all offseason, all of this week in practice. I just kept battling and my teammates were there to support me and cheer me on,” Jake Krug said about his motivation heading into the final set. “Pedro didn’t get the win but he was battling till the end, same with Dale, and that just gives you a lot of motivation when it's down to the last few points.”

After a double-fault, the score went to deuce, putting even more pressure on the junior. However, with a strong serve that caused VCU’s German Samofalov to over-hit his backhand, the Blue Devils won their first match of the season. 


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