Coming into the International Tennis Association Southwest Regional Championships in Malibu, Calif., members of the No. 1 USC men’s tennis have one goal in mind: to qualify for the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships next month.
The singles and doubles champions of the five-day regional competition will earn berths to the prestigious indoor tournament in Flushing, N.Y.
USC sends sophomores No. 15 Ray Sarmiento, No. 66 Emilio Gomez, Corey Smith and freshmen Eric Johnson, Jonny Wang and Yannick Hanfmann to participate in the 128-player draw. Sarmiento, Gomez and Hanfmann are seeded No. 2, No. 8 and No. 12, respectively, and will have byes in the first round.
No. 16 senior Daniel Nguyen, who already earned a bid to Flushing by reaching the quarterfinals in the ITA All-Americans Championship in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this month, will not participate in the singles draw.
Three doubles teams will also represent USC in a 64-team draw. Nguyen and Hanfmann, seeded No. 4, will pair up alongside Gomez and Sarmiento, seeded No. 7, and Johnson and Wang.
The tournament will feature some of the top players from the Southwest region of the country, including Pepperdine’s No. 10 junior Sebastian Fanselow, who defeated Sarmiento in the quarterfinals and Nguyen in the finals of ITA Regionals last year. Because Fanselow holds the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Sarmiento will not face Fanselow unless both players advance to the finals.
“If I face [Fanselow], I want to do my best and try to get revenge for Nguyen and me,” Sarmiento said.
USC coach Peter Smith, on the other hand, hopes his players spend more of the tournament concentrating on victory rather than vengeance.
“You don’t want to hold too much of a grudge because you got to focus on what you need to do, not on who you’re beating,” Smith said. “Having said that, I hope they kick [Fanselow’s] butt.”
Gomez, fresh off a singles championship performance at the Battle in the Bay Classic in San Francisco earlier this week, believes he will be ready for a shot at a second singles title this fall.
“It’s always good to win a tournament,” Gomez said. “It gives you a lot of confidence, and I think I’m going to have a good week at Malibu. I have to be ready mentally and physically, and my game has to be at a top level.”
Despite the players’ recent successes in fall tournaments, injuries have started to plague the team.
Sophomore Michael Grant, who took home the consolation singles title at the ITA Regionals last year, will have wrist surgery today, instead of joining the team in Malibu.
Sarmiento has also dealt with shoulder problems.
Fatigue is a cause of concern amid the injuries and numerous fall tournaments, but Smith believes having such a close tournament to USC will benefit the team.
“I think Malibu is a wonderful place to visit,” Smith said. “[The regionals] are just good for these guys — just good match experience to get them better.”
The players agree, and they believe every member of the team has a chance at standing atop the bracket in Malibu.
“It’s going to be a really tough tournament,” Hanfmann said. “But we practiced a lot, and I think we should be good.”