No. 11 Duke men’s tennis edges out Clemson, gets swept in singles by Georgia Tech to open ACC play at home

Garrett Johns helped clinch Duke's victory against Clemson, but struggled against Georgia Tech.
Garrett Johns helped clinch Duke's victory against Clemson, but struggled against Georgia Tech.

With conference play freshly underway, No. 11 Duke was favored as it took on two ACC opponents at home this weekend. 

Under the roof at Sheffield Tennis Center on a rainy Friday afternoon, Duke defeated Clemson in a narrow 4-3 match, decided by a grueling three-set battle on court 1. Two days later, the Blue Devils moved outdoors to Ambler Tennis Stadium for the first time this season to face off against Georgia Tech, falling in a decisive 6-1 loss as the Yellow Jackets swept in singles play, Duke’s first conference loss of the season.

“Good effort on Friday [against Clemson], but today was disappointing,” said head coach Ramsey Smith after Sunday’s match. “For some reason, we’re missing a little grit, a little toughness when it comes down to it, at times. The team has it, I’ve seen it, but it hasn’t been there every single match.”

The weekend started as Duke (10-6, 2-1 in the ACC) confronted Clemson. The Tigers (7-5, 0-1) struck first in doubles play with a 6-3 win on court 3, but two mirror-image 7-5 wins on courts 1 and 2 clinched the doubles point for the Blue Devils as they headed into singles play.

In the first sets, Duke won on courts 3 and 4, while Clemson won on courts 1, 5 and 6. A tiebreaker on court 2 was played to decide which team would take the lead, and sophomore Pedro Rodenas grabbed it for the Blue Devils in a solid 7-1 tiebreaker victory.

As second-set play ensued, two pairs of matches were split between the teams. Victories by graduate student Andrew Zhang (6-2, 6-1) and junior Connor Krug (6-2, 6-3) were paralleled by straight-set losses by freshman Alexander Visser and junior Jake Krug. Meanwhile, Rodenas fell in a third set to Clemson’s Wissam Abderrahman for a final score of 7-6(1), 2-6, 3-6.

With the team score now at 3-3, the fate of the match rested on the racket of redshirt senior Garrett Johns at center court. Johns and his opponent, Ryuhei Azuma, were locked neck-and-neck at 3-3 in a second-set tiebreaker, with all other matches having concluded. Johns was able to pull out a win and quickly leapt to a 4-0 lead in the third set before clinching the match with an ace for a final score of 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-1, thereby concluding the match with a 4-3 team victory for the Blue Devils against the Tigers.

Smith noted that the match was “kind of unique, where it came down to Garrett [Johns] and he played pretty much a whole set by himself. It was a great individual effort, but we struggled in some spots. We weren’t as cohesive as we needed to be across the board.”

Following the win against Clemson and a victory the week prior against Boston College, Duke was 2-0 in the ACC heading into its Sunday match as a favorite against Georgia Tech (10-3, 1-1). The team moved outdoors for the first time this season on a sunny, 70-degree morning, with blue and gray tents of K-Ville, abuzz with fans, providing a backdrop for the match.

The Blue Devils started the match on unstable footing with a competitive battle for the doubles point. On court 1, Johns and Rodenas fell 6-2, while nearly simultaneously on court 3, senior Faris Khan and sophomore Teddy Truwit won 6-2. The deciding set was won by the Duke duo of Zhang and fellow graduate student Michael Heller after they rallied back from a 5-3 deficit, ultimately winning 7-5 to take the doubles point for the Blue Devils.

Singles play started with Duke and Georgia Tech each taking three first sets, with the momentum in the Blue Devils’ favor and a team victory seemingly on the horizon. However, confidence soon dissipated as the Yellow Jackets were able to convert two of those into straight-set wins on court 4 against Connor Krug (6-3, 6-2) and on court 6 against Jake Krug (6-2, 6-4). 

Meanwhile, the remaining four matches stretched into third-set play. With the team total now 2-1 in Georgia Tech’s favor, Duke could only afford to lose one of these sets if it hoped to take the team victory. Early in the third set, and down a break on courts 1, 3 and 5, the outlook was grim for the Blue Devils.

Johns, now in his second three-setter of the weekend, was the next Blue Devil to fall, ultimately losing with a score of 6-4, 2-6, 1-6 against Georgia Tech’s Andres Martin. This brought the team total to 3-1 and the Yellow Jackets within one point of a team victory. Shortly thereafter, Visser and Zhang suffered defeats of their own in third-set losses. This sealed the team win for Georgia Tech, and a disappointed hush fell over the once-raucous home crowd. Only Rodenas on court 2 remained, fighting to prevent a singles sweep by the Yellow Jackets. Ultimately, he too fell in a third-set defeat with a score of 6-4, 5-7, 5-7 to Georgia Tech’s Keshav Chopra, concluding the match with a lopsided team score of 6-1 for the Yellow Jackets. 

“Bummer,” muttered one fan as he stood to leave his seat.

“We snuck out a doubles point that we probably didn’t deserve to win,” Smith said, reflecting on the loss. “We won three first sets, and ultimately we got outcompeted in singles — as simple as that. And that’s probably the most discouraging way to lose.”

The Blue Devils now have a 2-1 record in the ACC, and will stay at home next weekend as conference play continues against Virginia Tech and Virginia Friday and Sunday, respectively.

“We’ve got to regroup a little bit. This loss stings,” Smith said. “All these matches are valuable, all these opponents are tough, they all want to beat us very badly, so if we don’t show up unified, then matches like this can happen. We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and figure out how we need to get into that right mindset and just play better when it matters.”


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