The No. 3 USC men’s tennis team ended its two-match spring break trip to the East Coast on a high note after suffering an early setback.
In their final match before Pac-10 play begins in earnest, the Trojans (14-2, 0-0) displayed championship-caliber play in their 4-2 victory at No. 6 Georgia (13-3, 0-0) Friday, according to USC coach Peter Smith.
The USC victory ended Georgia’s 71-match home winning streak.
Senior Robert Farah played valiantly while overcoming a back injury — suffered earlier during the break — to dominate a doubles match with sophomore Steve Johnson and clinch the match with a three-set singles triumph over Georgia’s No. 96 Nate Schnugg.
“Robert played hurt the whole match,” Smith said, according to USCTrojans.com. “For Rob to do what he did while hurt really shows his spirit and what a leader he is.”
Georgia will host the NCAA championships in May, and gaining confidence on these courts while beating a potential national title contender provided a boost for USC.
Two days earlier, USC suffered its second loss of the season, falling 4-3 at Duke (6-5, 0-0).
As was the case in their other loss against No. 5 Texas, the Trojans lost the doubles point to Duke and were not able to overcome the early deficit.
Injuries were again a factor in the match, as Farah did not play singles and sophomore Matt Kecki was out for the weekend with a shoulder injury, but Smith did not want to take away from Duke’s strong performance.
“Duke had great play in doubles and No. 1 singles,” Smith said. “We gave it our best without Rob and Kecki, but it wasn’t enough.”
Smith described the loss at Duke as a big upset but explained that playing high-quality road matches is important to prepare the team for later in the season when the stakes are much greater.
“I am never afraid to lose a match; my goal is to put the team in tough situations to see how they respond,” Smith said. “We are not going to learn from easy matches. We have to build toughness, and the match against Duke — although it was a loss — was a step in that direction.”
One of the highlights of the trip was sophomore Daniel Nguyen‘s continued strong play. He won all four of his matches without dropping a set.
Playing talented teams like Duke and Georgia during a break might not be advantageous in the short run, but these types of matches are crucial in building the tenacity necessary to compete for championships.
“In a lot of ways, we have everything to lose and nothing to gain on paper,” Smith said of the decision to schedule Duke and Georgia during the break.
The experience from these quality road matches is crucial — especially for first-year players like freshman JT Sundling and junior Peter Lucassen — so that inexperienced players will be prepared for the pressure of the Pac-10 season and beyond.
With the Trojans’ first official Pac-10 match scheduled this weekend at No. 65 Oregon (11-4, 0-0), the main concern is getting everyone healthy, especially recently injured Farah and Kecki.
The way the Trojans responded in a tough environment at Georgia, especially following the loss at Duke, proved that they are prepared as the Pac-10 season commences this weekend.