After a first round elimination in their first tournament of the season, No. 3 senior Robert Farah and sophomore Steve Johnson came roaring back at the Wilson/ITA Southwest Regional Championships to take first place.
The tournament was held Oct. 15-19 in Malibu, Calif., at Pepperdine University. The USC men’s tennis team had six competitors in the singles tournament, including senior Jason McNaughton, No. 49 junior Jaak Poldma, sophomore Daniel Nguyen, sophomore Ben Lankenau, junior Daniel Gliner and freshman JT Sundling.
The Trojans also brought three doubles teams to the courts, including eventual champions Farah and Johnson, Poldma and Nguyen, and McNaughton and Sundling.
Farah and Johnson enjoyed the most success of all Trojans at the tournament with their second straight title at the tournament. As the No. 1 seed, the duo swept through competition to make it to the semifinal round on Sunday. They faced off with Pepperdine’s sophomore Hugh Clarke and freshman Finn Tearney. An 8-4 Trojan victory sent the pair to the final round, which began immediately after the conclusion of the semifinal match.
Like last year, Farah and Johnson matched up with another Pepperdine pair, sophomore Daniel Moss and freshman Sebastien Fanselow. The final match was yet another smooth victory for Farah and Johnson. An 8-3 decision gave the pair its second championship in two years at the tournament.
Pepperdine coach Adam Steinberg said Farah and Johnson were “what I consider the best doubles team in the country.”
Farah said Steinberg’s compliment was a testament to the USC pair’s stellar play.
“That’s a great compliment. That means we’re playing well, and we can play at a higher level,” Farah said. “I’m excited that he said that.”
No. 4-seeded Nguyen and Poldma reached the quarterfinal round before being eliminated. The No. 3 seed from San Diego State University ended McNaughton and Sundling’s run in the round of 32.
Farah and Johnson did not play singles after already qualifying for the ITA Indoor National Intercollegiate Tournament at the All-American Tournament a little over a week ago. Farah, who is ranked No. 3 in the nation in singles, felt playing singles at ITA Regionals would be a lose-lose situation for him.
“You’re kind of risking your ranking a little bit because you’re not playing against top players in the nation,” Farah said. “It’s a tournament where you would be completely the favorite so you don’t have anything to win and everything to lose.”
Singles competition started off promisingly with five of the six Trojans moving on after the first round of 128. The next round, however, saw an elimination for No. 9-seeded Nguyen and unranked McNaughton. The remaining three Trojans powered on, reaching the round of 32. It was there, however, that Sundling and Gliner were eliminated in two close matches.
The only remaining Trojan in the tournament was No. 5-seeded Poldma, who was defeated in the round of 16 by UCLA’s No. 9-seeded Amit Inbar in straight sets.
USC coach Peter Smith said that while the defeat was disappointing, it provides the team with valuable lessons.
“We got knocked off the pedestal a little bit there, and it just shows we need to keep working hard and just because we’re the national champions people aren’t just going to roll over for us — they’re going to do the opposite actually,” Smith said.
A bit of misfortune in the first round allowed two Trojans to continue on in the consolation tournament. Lankenau made it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated. Nguyen had a bye in the first round of the main tournament, but lost in the second round, thus earning himself a spot in the consolation tournament as well. There, Nguyen swept through the competition, defeating every opponent in straight sets to take home the consolation championship.
“Character is built in the back draw,” Nguyen said.