Trojans roll past Aggies in first round of NCAAs
After kicking off the NCAA championships with two sweeps, the men’s tennis team looks to string together four more wins to capture its fourth-consecutive NCAA title.
In front of a home crowd at Marks Stadium, No. 1 USC (29-1) posted a 4-0 victory against Fairfield (16-5) on Saturday, followed by another 4-0 win against No. 30 Texas A&M (14-15) on Sunday to advance to the round of 16 at Athens, Ga.
The Trojans, who hold the top seed in the tournament, eliminated the Aggies behind freshman Roberto Quirozâ€™s 6-1, 6-3 clincher over Jackson Withrow.
USC set the tone early in doubles action, where No. 2 pair Johnson and Quiroz and No. 35 pair Nguyen and Sarmiento both dispatched their opponents to the tune of 8-4 to give the Trojans a quick 1-0 advantage.
USCâ€™s first singles point of the day came from No. 1 senior Steve Johnson, who defeated No. 33 Alexis Klegou 6-2, 6-1 for his 62nd consecutive singles win.
No. 25 sophomore Ray Sarmiento then extended USCâ€™s lead to 3-0 with a 6-1, 6-4 finish over Junior Ore.
Quiroz clinched the win five minutes later, suspending the matches featuring No. 21 senior Daniel Nguyen, No. 51 freshman Yannick Hanfmann and No. 57 sophomore Emilio Gomez.
The win over Texas A&M was Johnson and Nguyenâ€™s last match at Marks Stadium. The two graduating seniors were both a part of the Trojansâ€™ last three consecutive championship teams.
â€śItâ€™s always great to play at home, but itâ€™s special for the seniors,â€ť Sarmiento said. â€śIâ€™m happy we got the wins for them.â€ť
The Trojans saw similar success in the tournament opener the day before in their sweep over Fairfield, which was capped off by Hanfmannâ€™s 6-2, 6-2 win over Dennis Zlobinsky.
After USCâ€™s ranked pairs captured the doubles point in just 35 minutes, Johnson and Sarmiento defeated their opponents in straight singles sets to set up Hanfmannâ€™s win.
â€śI feel like the team is playing well. Itâ€™s a great way to go into the tournament,â€ť Nguyen said.
The first-round victory came nearly two weeks after the Trojans defeated No. 5 UCLA 4-2 at Ojai, Calif., on April 29 for the inaugural Pac-12 Team Championship.
The Bruins had snapped the Trojansâ€™ 45-match winning streak in a tight 4-3 win in the regular season finale at Marks Stadium on April 20.
With a new four-match win streak intact, the Trojans continue their quest for a fourth consecutive NCAA title at the University of Georgia, where they will face No. 16 Illinois (19-7) in the round of 16 on Friday at 6 a.m.
The Fighting Illini are led by No. 7 Dennis Nevolo and No. 31 Roy Kalmanovich, who also comprise the No. 21 doubles pair for Illinois.
â€śItâ€™ll definitely be tough,â€ť Sarmiento said. â€śIllinois is proven, so we have to be ready to play and battle.â€ť
If the Trojans advance, they will take on either No. 8 Duke or Baylor in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
USC ultimately hopes to play for its 20th national title in the championship match, which will take place on Tuesday at 5 p.m. EST.