The No. 5 USC men’s tennis team won a thriller in Palo Alto, Calif., defeating No. 14 Stanford by the slimmest of margins on Saturday.
The Trojans’ 4-3 victory featured a different format because of the threat of rain. Singles play was completed first, and doubles would play out in case of a tie.
Luckily for USC (11-1, 0-0) the rain held off, and the match was played in its entirety.
“There is no way it could have been closer than today,” USC coach Peter Smith said. “These rivalries are special. To have it finish in doubles, I just told the team to enjoy it and compete.”
The intense competition started off with No. 83 sophomore Daniel Nguyen winning in straight sets 6-2, 6-1.
Junior Peter Lucassen was responsible for the USC’s second point, continuing his recent hot streak. Lucassen came back from a one-set deficit to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
The Cardinal (7-3, 0-0) notched narrow victories against No. 1 sophomore Steve Johnson, No. 68 junior Jaak Poldma and sophomore Matt Kecki to take a 3-2 lead in the match.
This left the match in No. 27 senior Robert Farah’s hands against No. 18 sophomore Bradley Klahn. Farah demonstrated his senior leadership in the 7-6, 6-7 (3), 7-5 triumph.
“Rob put us on his shoulders to give us a chance,” Smith said. “His third set had so much drama. They had a great crowd, and it was great to win in that environment.”
After the intense singles action, doubles play went down to the wire as well.
Stanford again gained an early lead with the No. 2 team of Ryan Thacher and Klahn defeating Farah and freshman J.T. Sundling 8-4. With its back against the wall, USC responded in two tightly contested matches to seal the victory. No. 30 Poldma and Lucassen won their match 9-7 and left it to Johnson and Nguyen to settle the match in a tiebreak.
With everyone’s attention fixed on the sophomore duo, it prevailed in the clutch 9-8 (3).
“Nguyen and Johnson played such a solid doubles set with no breaks, and then to win it when all the focus was on them was a great accomplishment,” Smith said.
With the match hinging on doubles in a competition against a high-quality doubles lineup in Stanford, USC put forth its best effort of the season.
“The quality of tennis on the courts was very high. I really felt like we just went out and won the match,” Smith explained. “I have not seen that level of doubles in No. 2 and No. 3 doubles the whole year.”
The weather in the Bay Area was a problem all weekend as the first of the two scheduled matches — Friday at California — was cancelled because of rain.
Even with the disappointment of the cancellation, the result at Stanford made for a memorable trip.
The Trojans have put in a lot of time training throughout the season, and this match proved that all of that training has prepared them to win in pressure-packed situations.
“That match is why you work so hard in practice, why you put in the long hours conditioning,” Smith said. “I thought we looked very strong at the end of that match, and that makes a coach proud.”