Connor, Jake and Ava Krug, all nationally ranked junior tennis players, sat on their couch alongside Domer, the family golden retriever, on June 6, recounting their biggest mess-ups. They all shared stories, but one of Jake’s got the biggest reaction. During a tournament toward the end of 2016, he tried to hit a gentle drop shot, he said, so it would land just over the net.
The shot went over the baseline by about a foot.
“It was pretty impossible to do,” Jake joked about hitting such a terrible shot.
Even blooming stars make mistakes.
The tennis rankings indicate all three siblings are blooming stars. USTA TennisLink lists Connor 18th in the Boys 14 national singles rankings, and Jake 43rd. In the site’s doubles rankings, the twin Krug boys, who always play together, sit third (Connor) and fourth (Jake). Ava is ranked 19th in the site’s Girls 12 national singles rankings.
The trio started in tennis thanks to their mother, Sherri Vitale, who played tennis at the University of Notre Dame. She taught them the basics, the kids said, before passing them onto coach Lance Luciani at Palm Aire Country Club. The kids haven’t played their mother in a real tennis match. Vitale said all three would beat her now.
Over the years, she’s watched them grow into winners. Jake and Connor won the doubles title May 22 at a USTA National Level II event in Arlington, Texas. Connor reached the finals of the singles bracket, too, and had to beat Jake in the quarterfinals to get there. The twins said they do not approach matches against each other any differently than normal. Ava said she has noticed the energy of matches between her brothers is amplified.
At that same Arlington tournament, Ava reached the Sweet 16 in the singles bracket, and reached the doubles final with partner Liv Hovde of McKinney, Texas.
Their success is a product of hard work as much as it is talent. The boys played baseball and tennis until they turned 12, when they decided to pick one and put all their energy into it. Ava followed their path. There was not one “lightbulb” moment where everything clicked for the Krugs. Improvement came quickly after giving up other sports, but it’s an ongoing process.
“Tennis is a long road,” Jake said. “You don’t just turn it on. It takes a long time to master.”
“You don’t really know how good you are until the end (of high school),” Connor added.
Off the court, all three kids are different, though Vitale said all three kids have a bit of her father, Basketball Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Vitale, in them. They relish the spotlight, she said, both on the court and at school.
Connor is chatty, having no problem breaking into lengthy discussions of his favorite television shows, or his love of pingpong, or how important rest and recovery are for tennis players. He discussed all this while giving his right foot an ice bath.
Jake, the only lefty in the family, is more reserved, leaning against the arm of the couch while waiting to speak, but Vitale said he usually acts like “a goofball.” Despite their differences, the boys hang out together often, playing Xbox or some other activity.
Ava isn’t into Xbox, preferring to watch movies in her room, away from the boys. Once in a while she’ll join them for a round of pingpong, or a game of hide and seek, when not finishing her homework.
That last part is important. All three Krug kids attend The Out-of-Door Academy. Connor and Jake will enter ninth grade in the fall, and Ava sixth. That means a full day of classes, plus homework after school. Vitale estimated that 90% of her kids’ competition take online classes, letting them set their tennis schedules however they would like. The Krugs do not have that luxury. When they miss school for a tournament (which happens often), it means even less practice time when they return, because they’ll have to make up the work. They fit tennis into their academic schedules, not the opposite.
They also have different goals. Connor is focused on getting his TennisLink ranking as high as possible, in pursuit of a scholarship to a good college. Ava wants to be the best player she can be, and that means not wasting one second of practice time. Jake gets more specific, wanting to “go deep” in a Level I tournament and to win a Level II singles title.
All those smaller goals contribute to a larger one.
“The goal is to be good at 16 or 18,” Vitale said. “You don’t want to peak at 12 or 14. They need to focus on the right things, make practice valuable, and they do. They love to compete.”