Defending champs eager to get back on the court
After a long hiatus, the USC menâs tennis team is ready to take the courts today in Tulsa, Okla. for the All-American Championships tournament.
âItâs been kind of a long layoff so it feels good to get back and play matches,â sophomore Steve Johnson said.
The tournament involves singles and doubles rounds, but no team competition. To qualify, a player must be previously ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. The top 44 singles teams and 21 doubles teams automatically qualify for the main draw.
For the Trojans, No. 3 senior Robert Farah and No. 18 Johnson received automatic qualifying bids in singles. The No. 3 pair received an automatic bid in doubles as well.
âItâs the last year Iâll be able to play this tournament so I want to finish my All-American college career on good terms,â Farah said.
There is, however, another opportunity for singles and doubles players to qualify for the main draw. Starting Monday, the University of Tulsa held the All-American qualifying rounds, which gave 128 additional singles players an opportunity to qualify for the main draw, with 16 players receiving a bid. On the doubles side, 64 teams participated in the qualifying tournament, with eight moving on to the main draw.
Yesterday, No. 99 sophomore Matt Kecki and No. 49 junior Jaak Poldma earned a spot in the singles main draw after defeating their respective opponents.
Poldma defeated Andrew Crone of North Carolina in the first round 7-5, 6-4. He then defeated Nebraskaâs Calin Paar 6-3, 6-4 in the second round, and secured his entry in the main draw with a smooth 6-3, 6-2 victory over Tucker Vorster of Ole Miss.
Kecki narrowly escaped the first round with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Ohio Stateâs Devin McCarthy. In round two he handily defeated Michiganâs Evan King 6-3, 6-1 and made things look even easier in the third round with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Adrian Forberg of Ole Miss.
Sophomore Daniel Nguyen was eliminated in the third round; Freshman JT Sundling and senior Jason McNaughton were eliminated in the first round.
âJaak and Kecki both played great and I really think D. Nguyen could have won [Wednesday],â USC coach Peter Smith said. âHeâs a lot stronger than last year.â
Kecki and Poldma also received an entry in the doubles main draw after a team withdrew from the tournament. They were set to play in the final qualifying match Wednesday afternoon when they received the news.
A combination of this weekâs success and previous rankings has earned four Trojans spots in todayâs tournament, an impressive feat according to Smith.
âItâs a great showing to have four guys in the main draw,â Smith said. âItâs basically made up of the top 64 players in the country and to have four of our guys in that top 64 says a lot.â
The players are also confident in their ability to perform well this week.
âIâve done well at this tournament the last two years so Iâm going to go out there and do my best,â Farah said. âMy goal is to win the tournament.â
His doubles partner, Johnson, agreed.
âIâd like to do well and win a bunch of matches so I can look forward to whatâs on tap next for us,â Johnson said.
Farah and Johnson also expect to have success as a doubles team.
âOur chance of winning has gotta be good,â Johnson said. âWeâre playing much better because I was new last year and had some things to work on, but I feel like we have a good chance to do really well.â
Overall, Smith said the national championship team has a different air about them than teams in previous years.
âThe team really has a really positive energy that goes above and beyond other teams Iâve coached in the fall,â Smith said.
Being the national champs may make the Trojans a target for other players even though it is not a team tournament.
âEveryone wants to beat us even though itâs not a team event,â Johnson said.