USC senior Steve Johnson wrapped up a fitting ending to his prolific collegiate career by capturing his second-consecutive NCAA singles championship Monday.
Johnson, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, clinched the back-to-back by defeating Kentucky’s No. 3 Eric Quigley 6-4, 6-4 in the finals at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
A strained abdomen and shin splint could not hold Johnson back, especially in the final game of the second set.
He fired off three straight aces before forcing Quigley to error with a deep ball that sent Johnson to his knees, screaming after taking his final point as a Trojan.
With the singles title, the back-to-back singles champion also earned a wild card berth in the U.S. Open in August.
En route to the finals, Johnson relinquished just one set to his six opponents.
Johnson finished his Trojan career by winning an unprecedented 72 singles matches in a row, dating back to January 2011. After going 37-0 in his senior year, Johnson concluded with a 149-21 overall record.
“He’s special; we all know that,” USC coach Peter Smith said. “In a lot of ways he’s changed college tennis. I think he’s going to show that it’s OK to stay four years.”
No. 21 senior Daniel Nguyen, No. 25 sophomore Ray Sarmiento, No. 57 sophomore Emilio Gomez and No. 51 freshman Yannick Hanfmann also participated in the singles tournament after the No. 1 Trojans captured their fourth-consecutive NCAA team title last Tuesday.
Hanfmann, who clinched the team championship for the Trojans with his singles win, fell 3-6, 4-6 in the first round against No. 50 Louis Cant.
The other three Trojans, with the exception of Johnson, were eliminated in the subsequent round.
Gomez and Sarmiento fell in straight sets to No. 9 Blaz Rola and No. 2 Mitchell Frank, respectively, while Nguyen finished his collegiate career with a 4-6, 4-6 loss to No. 5 Henrique Cunha.
Nguyen, who was a part of the team for all of its last four championships, finished 135-38 for his career.
In the 32-team doubles tournament, USC’s only pair, consisting of Johnson and freshman Roberto Quiroz, advanced to the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed.
After a grueling quarterfinals win over No. 39 Alex Domijan, Johnson could not finish the quarterfinals doubles match later in the day.
[Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that Steve Johnson Roberto Quiroz were leading when they retired to the Texas Tech pair in doubles.]
“I feel like I let Roberto down a little bit,” Johnson said. “I just physically didn’t have it in me, and I hit an overhead point in that last game that completely ripped my stomach apart.”
Despite coming up short in doubles, Johnson, who had the option of skipping his senior year at USC to begin his professional career, achieved his ultimate goal of winning another team title with USC and became the first NCAA singles champion to also win four team championships.
“I can’t believe it. Four years went by quick, but to say the least it’s been a special four years that I’ll never forget. It’ll definitely go with me for the rest of my life,” Johnson said.