Through two tournaments this weekend, No. 1 USC men’s tennis hoped to wrap up the fall preseason with one more fall singles title. Instead, they walked away with championships in doubles and consolation singles.
No. 66 sophomore Emilio Gomez paired up with freshman Yannick Hanfmann in the 55th Southern California Intercollegiate Championships at UCLA to capture the team’s first fall doubles title.
As the No. 1 seed in the 16-team doubles draw, Gomez and Hanfmann defeated No. 2-seed UCLA’s Clay Thompson and Alex Brigham 8-4 yesterday. En route to the finals, Gomez and Hanfmann defeated pairs from UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and Concordia.
“There’s a ton of room to improve, but it’s great they won today,” said USC coach Peter Smith. “To beat a UCLA team — that’s really good. I’m happy about that.”
On the same day, USC freshman Eric Johnson upended fellow Trojan freshman Jonny Wang 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the consolation singles finals. After both losing in the first round in the main draw, the freshmen entered the 16-player consolation draw and won three consecutive matches before facing off in the finals.
“It was fun playing a teammate. We both played really well,” Johnson said. “It was a really tight first set, but in the second I pulled away with it.”
The two also joined forces in the doubles draw, but lost 5-8 in the quarterfinals to Brigham and Thompson.
Brigham and Thompson also ended singles main draw runs for No. 1-seed Hanfmann and No. 2-seed Gomez. Thompson, seeded No. 3, upset Hanfmann 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals, while Brigham defeated Gomez 2-6, 6-4, 1-6 in the Round of 16.
“The key for this week was for the freshman to get some experience at UCLA, because the next time we go there, it’s not going to be so exciting,” Smith said.
USC sophomore Corey Smith also participated in the five-day competition, but could not make it out of the singles qualifying draw after losing to San Diego’s Andrew Raphaelson 6-7, 1-6.
As the five Trojans battled in Southern California, two other USC players tackled some tough competition in the prestigious USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
No. 16 senior Daniel Nguyen and No. 15 sophomore Ray Sarmiento entered a 32-player singles main draw that featured the top college tennis players in the nation.
In the first round, Nguyen faced off against No. 1-seed freshman Mitchell Frank of Virginia, losing 2-6, 2-6 to the eventual champion of the tournament. Frank has yet to lose a singles match in his intercollegiate career.
“[Frank] rarely made any mistakes, maybe one or two unforced errors,” Nguyen said. “He played solid and consistently throughout the match, and I made a few too many errors.”
Hours later, Sarmiento fell 4-6, 4-6 in the first round to No. 6-seed Chase Buchanan of Ohio State.
“[Buchanan] just starting pressing me more and being more aggressive,” Sarmiento said. “I started missing a lot, and he stepped up.”
Nguyen and Sarmiento then entered the consolation singles draw and both won a match before losing in the quarterfinals.
“They could’ve done better,” Smith said. “They just need to keep working. They can see that they’re some of the best players in the country, but unless they’re sharp and ready to go, they’re going to lose.”
Sarmiento earned his bid to the tournament after winning the singles title in the ITA Southwest Regionals in Malibu two weeks ago, while Nguyen qualified for advancing past the quarterfinals in the ITA Men’s All-American Tournament in Tulsa, Okla. in early October.
The two tournaments end USC’s fall preseason, leaving the team with two singles, one doubles and one consolation singles title for the fall.
USC’s next action awaits in January at the Sherwood Collegiate cup before they kick off the spring season and begin their journey for a fourth consecutive NCAA championship.
“We have to work our butts off,” Smith said. “We have two months to get ready, and if we work hard, we’ll have a chance to compete for a fourth.”