Following a disappointing, season-finishing loss to rival No. 12 UCLA, the No. 5 USC men’s tennis team will switch its focus to the Pac-10 championships in Ojai, Calif., which start today.
The nail-biting 4-3 loss to the Bruins (14-6, 4-2) marked the fourth consecutive year that UCLA has defeated USC (19-3, 5-1) in the season finale.
“I don’t know why,” USC coach Peter Smith said of the current trend against UCLA. “There is always so much put into that match. The more we have lost to them, the more we want to beat them, and it perpetuates itself.”
Although this was an especially painful loss, the Trojans have mentally moved on from the match.
“Our mind-set is fine. We are looking at it like losing any match,” said senior Robert Farah. “This gives us more experience to work harder, and more preparation for the NCAAs. We are not thinking about UCLA.”
The Pac-10 tournament in Ojai marks a shift to individual tennis, which is not always a welcome sight following the pressure-packed dual match season.
“I don’t really like it at this time of the year,” said Smith. “Ojai is such a weird beast. They call it the Pac-10 championship, but no one treats it like that. It’s time for players who aren’t normally in the lineup to get time to play and time for some players to get rested.”
The Trojans will put forth a full doubles lineup, but will keep some normal singles contributors out of the singles portion.
Sophomore Steve Johnson, junior Jaak Poldma and senior Jason McNaughton will not participate during singles play.
Even with some players sitting out portions of the tournament, the Trojans come in as favorites with Farah and Johnson as the top-seeded doubles team and Farah as the No. 1 seed in the singles draw.
The tournament might not have much bearing on the rest of the season, but the players still enjoy the competition.
“I have always liked the tournament,” Farah said. “It gives you a lot of match experience and helps me prepare for other matches.”
Farah has been successful in Ojai throughout his career.
In 2008, he was a singles finalist, losing to fellow Trojan Kaes Van’t Hof, and won in doubles with Van’t Hof.
The following year, he was a singles semifinalist, losing to eventual tournament winner Bradley Klahn from Stanford.
Smith equates the tournament’s timing to being in a playoff situation and then having to play in an exhibition. Although the tournament’s format and timing is not ideal, that does not mean that the Trojans will put forth diminshed effort.
“We will give 100 percent, and we will take this tournament seriously,” Smith said. “If you win it, you are still the Pac-10 champion, and that is still pretty important.”