As the old saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. And if USC’s No. 4 men’s tennis team equates success with fun, it might not be surprising that they just hosted their last two regular season matches, dispatching the No. 43 Oregon Ducks 7-0 on Friday and the No. 31 Washington Huskies 6-1 on Saturday.
The Trojan lineup, which has been subject to much change recently, was nearly back to full force this weekend, as the team saw the return of sophomore Roberto Quiroz and his cousin, junior co-captain Emilio Gomez. Both missed last weekend’s matches to help guide their home country of Ecuador to a win over Chile in the Davis Cup. The cousins arrived back at USC on Tuesday and were forced to get right back into the swing of things in order to take on two more Pac-12 opponents at Marks Stadium.
“We’re pretty tired,” Quiroz said. “But I think overall it was a really great experience that we can take advantage of … because we gained more experience.”
Against Oregon, Gomez and Quiroz’s doubles match was suspended at 7-4, as their teammates on courts one and three clinched the doubles point for the Trojans with identical scores of 8-3 each before the Ecuadorians could finish.
In singles, the Trojans put on a clinic to capture a 7-0 win over the Ducks. USC head coach Peter Smith sat freshman Max de Vroome, who is still recovering from a wrist injury, opting to start sophomore Jonny Wang at the No. 6 spot instead. Wang demonstrated his capabilities by only dropping one game en route to a decisive 6-0, 6-1 victory that would set the tone for the rest of his teammates.
Sophomore Eric Johnson followed suit by putting up an impressive 6-2, 6-1 win, allowing junior co-captain Ray Sarmiento to clinch the match for the Trojans in a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Oregon’s 6-foot-8 slugger Jeff Mullen. Though he stands at only 5-foot-10, Sarmiento wasn’t intimidated by his opponent’s size and employed an array of drop shots and sharply angled forehands to take him down.
“I just returned his serve and got him moving from the start and I was in good shape,” Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento and his teammates carried their success into Saturday’s battle against No. 31 Washington, taking down the Huskies 6-1 to improve to 22-2 overall and a perfect 5-0 in Pac-12 play.
Because it was the last regular-season home match, the Trojans honored their lone senior, Michael Tang. The positive energy that resulted from the senior’s send-off seemed to show in doubles play, as USC came bursting out of the gates.
Sarmiento and sophomore Yannick Hanfmann led the way, dominating the top Husky team 8-2. Next, Johnson and de Vroome swiftly served their way to an 8-4 comeback victory after falling behind 3-1. Just seconds later, Quiroz and Gomez wrapped up their match 8-6 to put the Trojans up 1-0 heading into singles play.
Once again, USC flexed its muscle in singles play. Johnson wrapped up a successful weekend by being the first to finish, taking down his opponent 6-2, 6-2 on court five. Hanfmann defeated his opponent 6-3, 6-1, extending his incredible undefeated streak in singles to 17 matches, leaving Wang to clinch the match for the Trojans with a 6-3, 6-2 win over his opponent before Sarmiento and Quiroz took down their opponents 6-1, 6-2 and 6-4, 6-2, respectively.
“When you can watch guys play like that you’ve got to at some point just sit back and relax,” Smith said. “It’s really enjoyable to watch.”
Washington’s only point came off an upset of USC’s Gomez, who is ranked No. 5 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, by Washington’s No. 17 Kyle McMorrow. Intense Davis Cup play and jetlag appeared to finally catch up with Gomez, as he struggled to make a first serve in the last half of his 7-6 (4), 5-7, 1-0 (10-7) loss to the Huskies’ only ranked player.
Though disappointed with Gomez’s play, Smith was happy about the weekend overall, particularly with the team’s performance in doubles.
“It’s all about chemistry and communication,” Smith said. “It’s hard to say you’re going to win an eight-game pro-set every time, but we’re putting our best foot forward.”