Duke men's tennis seizes doubles point but falls short in singles, exits ACC tournament in semifinals to Virginia

Garrett Johns kept things close against Virginia's Chris Rodesch before falling in three sets.
Garrett Johns kept things close against Virginia's Chris Rodesch before falling in three sets.

CARY, N.C.—Onto NCAAs. 

In an ACC tournament semifinal matchup against No. 1-seed Virginia Saturday, the fourth-seeded Blue Devils looked to avenge last season’s ACC and NCAA tournament losses to the Cavaliers. But a hard-fought effort that began by taking the doubles points fell short with an eventual 4-1 loss. 

“That’s just a tough match,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said after the match. “You just have to give credit to Virginia.”

Early on, this year’s postseason matchup against the Cavaliers looked different for an experienced Duke squad. Following an initial doubles 6-4 win on court 3 from Blue Devil senior Faris Khan and sophomore Teddy Truwit, sophomore Pedro Rodenas and redshirt senior Garrett Johns, the newly ranked best doubles pairing in the nation, willed the Blue Devils to a 1-0 lead after a 6-3 win of their own. 

Once Duke earned an early lead, the buzz was palpable in Cary, especially since the Cavaliers have cemented themselves as the best program in the ACC and has shown it in past thumpings of the Blue Devils. Yet, the underdogs, hungry for a chance at the ACC title, gained an early upper-hand and with it a distinct sense of momentum.

“On all three courts we came out firing,” Smith said. “[Khan and Truwit] were unbelievable. It was a great start.”

The Blue Devils’ doubles performance resembled their ACC quarterfinal victory against North Carolina the day before: dominant. In both singles and doubles, Duke took the fight to the Tar Heels and came away with a sweeping 4-0 victory. Johns, Rodenas and freshman Alexander Visser each contributed a point in singles to secure Duke’s date with Virginia. 

However much to Duke’s disappointment, the lead on the second-ranked team in the nation shrank just as quickly as it grew. 

On courts 4 and 5, junior Connor Krug and Visser fell in straight-sets to Virginia’s Dylan Dietrich and Alexander Kiefer, respectively. Against a talented and experienced senior in Kiefer, Visser looked especially overmatched, picking up just three games. The victory was Kiefer’s seventh-straight in ACC singles play.

“Virginia did a really good job of regaining the momentum,” Smith said. “At four and five they rolled.” 

As the matches on courts 1, 2, 3 and 6 tensed up, the volume in Cary Tennis Park heightened and both teams and their supporters gathered to watch the final matches. After falling 6-1 in the first set, Rodenas elevated his game and fought Inaki Montes to a 5-4 score in the second. 

With Inaki on serve and up 40-30, he battled Rodenas and finally put him away following a multiple-shot point. Montes pumped his fists and let out a scream before meeting Rodenas, his fellow Spaniard, at the net for an embrace.

Virginia had just one more match to win, and overall fourth-ranked Chris Rodesch was gaining momentum on Johns. Johns carried over his momentum from doubles to win the first set 6-4, but Rodesch’s powerful serve was just too much for the Duke redshirt senior in the second, taking him down 6-2. 

As the third set progressed, Virginia’s path to the ACC title game cleared as Johns struggled to string together points against Rodesch. A 6-3 third-set victory propelled Virginia to the final round of the ACC tournament and a contest with Florida State.

“Rodesch is tough, he serves great,” Smith said. “Garrett’s been so good for us, that’s just a tough match.” 

While the Blue Devils will be disappointed with the result, an inspiring effort against one of the nation’s best will provide even more confidence to a group that played with it in Cary.

“Overall, [this was] a positive tournament for us,” Smith said. “It’s tough to play Virginia in the semis, you’d prefer to play them in the finals. We’re starting to put the pieces together, and we’re playing our best tennis at the end of the year.” 

Duke now awaits the NCAA tournament bracket reveal for its all-but-guaranteed first round matchup in a couple of weeks. 


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