Call it a midseason slump or a blip on the radar, but the back-to-back losses suffered by the USC men’s tennis team were unequivocally one thing: shocking. The four-straight champions are not used to being tripped up twice, but after dropping matches to Virginia and UCLA, the team let its hair down this past weekend at the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships in San Diego. And, after a relaxing break, it’s back to business as usual.
At the midway mark of the season, it would seem that USC is right on track to make yet another national championship run. Next on the schedule for the Trojans (13-2) is the spirited No. 12 Pepperdine Waves (10-2), a team known for its boundless energy, something that USC head coach Peter Smith stressed to his players.
“If you talk about energy, wait until you see Pepperdine play,” Smith said. “They bring more energy to the courts than by far any team in the country. They will bring it like you’ve never seen. It’s complete chaos in doubles.”
The frenzied Waves will pose a formidable threat to the Trojans in doubles play. After playing well in doubles to open up the season, USC dropped the doubles point in three straight matches last month, two of which they went on to lose. The Trojans got back on track by winning the doubles point and the match against the University of San Diego Toreros last week and by working on their game in the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships last weekend.
In that tournament, the newly formed duo of freshman Max de Vroome and sophomore Eric Johnson advanced to the finals but ultimately fell to UCLA sophomores Dennis Novikov and Marcos Giron. The Pepperdine pair of junior Francis Alcantara and senior Finn Tearney, ranked No. 27 in the nation, lost an early match in the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships, but went on a six-game win streak to take home the consolation title.
The Trojans, who also tried out a new doubles pair of sophomore Roberto Quiroz and junior Emilio Gomez this past weekend, believe they came out of the tournament stronger in that facet and hope to get ahead early against the Waves by securing the doubles point.
“Coming out from the first ball will be very important,” junior captain Michael Grant said. “Right out of the gate, right out of the starting blocks.”
In addition to their highly ranked doubles team, the Waves boast four nationally ranked players in singles: No. 7 senior Sebastian Fanselow, No. 73 junior Alex Sarkissian, No. 83 Tearney and No. 87 Alcantara.
Although Pepperdine’s Tearney and Alcantara, at No. 27, are ranked higher than USC’s premier doubles team of sophomore Yannick Hanfmann and junior Ray Sarmiento, at No. 31, and No. 7 Fanselow is ranked above No. 14 Sarmiento in singles, Sarmiento is not worried about the matchup. He isn’t worried either about the fact that the Trojans dropped one spot, from No. 2 to No. 3, in the latest national poll. The Trojans are now behind Virginia and UCLA, the two teams they have lost to this season.
“It’s just a number,” Sarmiento said of the rankings. “The only number that matters is the ranking after the NCAAs.”
Instead of stressing over dropping a spot in the national rankings, the Trojans are focusing their attention on how to respond to the rambunctious energy Pepperdine will undoubtedly bring to the match on Friday.
“We’ve all played them before so we know that they bring a lot of energy,” Johnson said. “So, we’ll just have to bring our own, stay focused on ours and not get distracted by them.”
The match against the Waves kicks off at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Marks Stadium.