In a weekend fraught with inclement weather, a last-minute change of venue and scheduling uncertainties, the USC men’s tennis team swept their way through the field at the ITA Kick-Off on Sunday at Marks Stadium, claiming the championship by defeating the Fresno State Bulldogs 4-0 on Sunday.
Though the final was played at Marks Stadium as planned, the opening leg of the tournament on Saturday was relocated 50 miles east to the Hampton Indoor Courts in Riverside, Calif. because of rain. USC coach Peter Smith admitted that the logistical uncertainties and the change of venues presented a challenge for the Trojans, who clinched their spot in the final by defeating San Diego State 4-0, on Saturday in Riverside.
“Adversity is good … [we can] learn from adversity. Last year we played indoors twice [and] we had a three-hour rain delay,” Smith said. “We have to be able to handle all this [adversity] and have the patience to see yourself through.”
The Trojans would face some more unexpected adversity, as USC’s doubles teams secured their point with a bit of dramatic flourish. After splitting the first two matches, the doubles point came down to a tiebreak between No. 1 pairs freshman Max De Vroome and sophomore Roberto Quiroz of USC and Reid deLaubenfels and Nikolas Papic of Fresno State. De Vroome and Quiroz cruised in the tiebreak, however, to secure the point 8-7(3).
In singles play, Quiroz, junior Emilio Gomez and the rest of the Trojans demonstrated in their vanquishing of Fresno State why they entered the season as one of the top teams in the nation.
Junior Ray Sarmiento, who was injured in last week’s Sherwood Collegiate Cup victory, sat out the weekend because of an abdominal injury. Sarmiento stated that his injury was manageable, and he planned to be back by Friday for the team’s match against Texas. Also out was Yannick Hanfmann, who was forced to retire at Sherwood because of injury.
In Sarmiento’s stead, Gomez (6-2, 6-3) played a tidy, fundamentally sound match in the No. 1 spot while looking every bit a top-ranked position player. The sharp angles on Gomez’s blistering forehands were ultimately too much for deLaubenfels, who fell victim to the Trojan’s superior athleticism and shot-making.
The No. 5 match saw the USC debut of the young De Vroome. The Netherlands native is listed at 6-foot-5 but is at least an inch-and-a-half taller than his listed height. In his singles debut against Fresno State junior Sam MacNeil, De Vroome explained that he “did not want to lay off the pressure and let [MacNeil] back into the match.” De Vroome’s length, in tandem with a startlingly refined service game, ensured that the freshman was never truly challenged en route to his defeat of MacNeil, 6-1, 6-1.
In his No. 2 match with sophomore Sai Nakireddi, Quiroz punctuated the court with thunderous groundstrokes that had his opponent on the defensive for the majority of the match. In the first set, it seemed that Quiroz would cruise to an easy victory. His terrifying onslaught of forehands eventually overwhelmed Kartik, and he took the set 6-1.
In the second set, however, Kartik would give chase and play patiently, attempting to neutralize forehands and take advantage of various unforced errors by Quiroz. At one point in the second set, Kartik was up 4-1 and Quiroz’s play resembled little of his first set.
“He must have forgot that we play two out of three sets,” Smith said. “Where [Quiroz] comes from, they only play one set. It wasn’t until he was down 4-1 in the second [set] when he says, ‘Oh yeah, we play two out of three.’”
With his alleged bout of amnesia subsided, Quiroz would recover form and reel off five straight games to secure the match 6-1, 6-4.
After the graduation of five-time All-American Steve Johnson and veteran Daniel Nguyen, Gomez and Sarmiento are charged with the task of leading a young team that fields no seniors in singles play. Gomez invited the challenge, saying that the team “has to step up,” and that he and Sarmiento “can take the responsibility to play the big positions and the big matches.”
That responsibility will be put to the test in short order, as Gomez will lead the charge again Tuesday as the Trojans play a doubleheader against Cal Poly Pomona and UC Irvine at Marks Stadium.