Lakewood Ranch's Connor and Jake Krug have been dead-set on tennis since they were children.
They, along with their sister, Ava Krug, learned the sport from their mother, Sherri Vitale Krug, who played tennis at the University of Notre Dame.
They were good at it, too. They committed to Duke University in 2019 and signed in 2020 as top-30 players nationally, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network. Now sophomores at Duke, the brothers say their games have taken another step — but even more than that, they say the rest of their lives have been transformed by their college experience.
"In high school, I was playing a lot of tennis," Connor Krug said. "I play a lot here, too, but there are also so many more avenues to explore. I have made a good group of friends off the court. I'm taking advantage of every opportunity Duke has. I've basically changed my perspective on everything since I got here.
"For most of my life, I have only been around tennis players and people who were similar to me. Here, I'm hanging out with people who are different. I feel like I have a personality outside of tennis."
One example is that Connor Krug said he's developed a love for travel and food, and he spent his spring break with friends in the Bal Harbour area of Miami going to different restaurants and experiencing as much of the village as possible.
Jake Krug agreed, saying he and Connor have gained a lot of maturity since hitting campus, something that shows in their day-to-day lives as well as their tennis habits. Before, he said, a bad tennis match would be all he thought about for the rest of the day. Now, he can relax afterward with four non-tennis friends who don't pepper him with questions about how the match went. That balance has been crucial to his overall happiness, Jake Krug said.
There have not been many bad days lately. Both brothers have winning records as of April 7. Connor Krug is 15-10 (11-7 in dual matches) while Jake Krug is 13-12 (8-4 in dual matches). Their play in duals has given the Blue Devils necessary depth as Duke is 15-5 as a team and 8-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The brothers attribute their on-court success to a new initiative the Blue Devils coaches have implemented, targeting their players' mental state. Connor Krug said their coaches have asked them to take stock of their play every time they lose a point and focus on something they did well during that point, as well as something they can correct on the next point.
As players only get 25 seconds between points, this activity forces players to put their energy toward something positive instead of complaining or getting down on themselves. It takes negative emotion out of the game, Connor Krug said, which is crucial. When you play with negative emotion, that's when errors happen, he said.
"It sounds simple and easy, but it is something a lot of tennis players struggle with," Jake Krug said. "It's important."
One thing they have been doing less this year is playing together. The brothers have been a doubles pairing just once this season — they won the match — in favor of other pairings. Connor Krug has mainly played with freshman Teddy Truwit (they are 5-4) while Jake Krug has played with junior Andrew Dale (2-4) and junior Faris Khan (1-2).
The separation was not their choice, but they're not upset about it, either. The brothers said the Duke coaches made the choice based on playing style, positioning and matchups. The team has become so close, they said, that they are comfortable taking the court with anyone.
The brothers want to be clear, though, that they haven't gotten sick of each other. In fact, they spend a lot of time together outside of tennis and have overlapping friends.
"Duke feels like home, and Jake certainly has a lot to do with that," Connor Krug said.
At Duke, the brothers said, they have found their niche. They enjoy being part of a team after years of playing on their own, getting support from their fellow Blue Devils at practice and celebrating big wins together. While high school tennis can be a lonely experience with lots of travel and alone time, Jake Krug said, college tennis make you immediately feel part of something bigger.
They aren't celebrities in Durham, North Carolina, but they do get recognized for being related to a certain family member.
"At one Duke basketball game this year, I don't remember which one, I went up to grab some popcorn from the concession stand," Connor Krug said. "I went to check out and the cashier, who I had never seen before, said 'Oh, you're Dickie V's grandson?' And I said 'Yeah. A discount on the popcorn, maybe?' It didn't work."
The Krugs said Dick Vitale, their grandfather, has been up to see them a handful of times this year, as has the rest of their family. Being close enough for everyone to visit has been a nice perk, they said.
It's another reason they feel at home with the Blue Devils.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.