Duke men's tennis defeats UNC Asheville and Alabama, advances to Super Regionals for second straight year

<p>Sophomore Pedro Rodenas returns a backhand against Alabama.&nbsp;</p>

Sophomore Pedro Rodenas returns a backhand against Alabama. 

It has been three hundred and sixty-three days since last year's tournament, and with nearly an identical roster, Duke men’s tennis is back in the Super Regionals. 

The Blue Devils dominated UNC Asheville 4-0 and Alabama 4-1 in the first two rounds of the NCAA Team Championship. Head coach Ramsey Smith’s team will take on TCU in the Super Regionals, advancing for only the second time since 2015.

Graduate Andrew Zhang clinched the victory against the Crimson Tide, defeating Andrii Zimnokh 6-4, 6-4. 

“It feels great… just so excited for the guys,” Smith said. “I thought we played great today and I thought we did a great job managing the adversity and the switch from outdoors to indoors. I just feel like we prepared ourselves really well.”

In the doubles rounds, while Alabama held serve on the first game of every court, the Blue Devils slowly grabbed the momentum back. 

On court 2, graduate Michael Heller ripped a forehand to force an error for the first break of the day, and let out an energetic scream to ignite the crowd. 

Meanwhile on court 3, Teddy Truwit and Faris Khan came back from a 0-40 deficit to win the game and get another break. The tandem continued to play inspired tennis, wrestling the set away with a 4-1 lead. Truwit was tremendous at the net; his and Khan's energies really complemented each other as the pair raced to a win. 

“Teddy and Faris were just shot out of a cannon,” Smith said. “They're just fun, I think they have the best energy of all our teams, and they have so much fun playing together. 

Back on court 1, the best doubles team in the nation — redshirt senior Garrett Johns and sophomore Pedro Rodenas — was doing its typical thing. Johns crushed a return for a winner and clinched the doubles point. 

The Blue Devils had all the momentum heading into singles, but Mother Nature interrupted it: Singles play was suspended due to rain and moved inside the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center.

Rodenas was the first to win a set, emerging 6-2. However, Alabama evened Duke's early leads on multiple courts. Then, all of a sudden, the Blue Devils won a smattering of 6-4 sets. On court 4, junior Connor Krug had a deuce set point, and a strong backhand return gave him the set. Alexander Visser earned a 6-4 set for himself on court 6 and Zhang served nicely for a 6-4 set at position 3. 

Duke won five out of six first sets, needing to only win three of the matches to clinch a spot in the Sweet 16. 

Rodenas proved to be too much for Alabama's Matias Ponce de Leon, winning the second just as easily as the first and giving Duke a 2-0 advantage. However, the Crimson Tide took second-set leads on every other court, so the Blue Devils had to fight from behind. 

On court 4, Krug hit a miraculous low volley — despite standing at 6-foot-6 — and got a break to lead 5-4. With his powerful serve, he took the second set 6-4. The Blue Devils led 3-0 and were one point away. 

Visser had two match points, but freshman nerves caught up to him. He double faulted and then missed a backhand, letting Alabama tie up the set at five apiece. 

It wasn’t over quite yet, though: The Crimson Tide got the second set and match on court 5, giving them their first point of the day. But before they could get any further, the methodical Zhang had an opening in the second set, and finished the match on his serve.

“It's pretty emotional since it's my last home match playing for Duke,” Zhang said. “But I'm super thrilled, I played a great match against a tough, tough opponent and credit to Alabama — they gave us a dogfight.”

In the first round against UNC Asheville, all three doubles matches were tight to start off, as many of the early games went to deuce. But the Blue Devils’ excellent doubles players finally shone through, and they pulled away. 

On court 3, Khan and Truwit were the first to win, with a fierce overhead winner by Truwit on match point. There were simultaneous match points for the home team on courts 1 and 2, and Heller hit a volley winner on court 2 to clinch the set and the doubles point for Duke.

“It's definitely a great chemistry,” Khan said. “We're a great team together… Today, we started a little slow. But we raised our energy and got it done at the end.”

In singles, Rodenas set the tone immediately with a return winner on the first point. He got a break and the Blue Devils were off and running. Johns followed suit shortly, ripping forehands past Bulldog Freddy Murray to take the break.

Duke got all of the first sets in the singles rounds and was well on its way to a comfortable win. Rodenas and Krug won to give the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead, and it was a race between courts 5 and 6 on who was gonna clinch.  

In the end, Khan hit a forehand winner off a serve and court 5 and let out his patented enthusiastic scream to send the Blue Devils to the Round of 32.

“The bottom half of the lineup is going to be really important for us,” Smith said. “[Khan] is playing the best tennis of his career right now. So it's definitely gonna be very important.”

Duke will travel to Fort Worth, Texas, to take on TCU in the Super Regionals May 11. 

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Sports Editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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