For USC’s men’s tennis team, which has won more national championships than any other team in the history of Division I collegiate tennis, history repeating itself is usually a good thing.
But the No. 2 Trojans repeated a part of their history that they’d like to forget yesterday, falling to crosstown rival UCLA 5-2 in Westwood. Specifically, USC experienced a similar sequence from last season, which involved beating the Bruins in the semifinals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships and then falling in their next matchup.
Last year, then-sophomore Robert Quiroz came up big for the Trojans in the tournament, helping the team eke out a 4-3 victory over UCLA in the semifinal match of the ITA National Indoors. The Trojans fell to eventual national champion Virginia in the final match but returned home encouraged by beating their rivals and making it to the finals.
Less than a week later, the Trojans battled with the Bruins again, but to different results this time. It was UCLA that took home a 4-3 victory and never looked back, beating USC two more times that season.
So when the Trojans pulled off a similar 4-3 win over UCLA in this year’s ITA National Indoor semifinals there might have been some cause for concern, with another meeting with the Bruins looming just a week away on the schedule.
UCLA came into Tuesday’s match boasting the No. 1 singles player in the country in Clay Thompson, as well as the nation’s No. 5 player in Marcos Giron. USC also brought two top-10 players into the matchup in senior captain Ray Sarmiento (No. 6) and Hanfmann (No. 10). Together, Hanfmann and Sarmiento headline a revamped Trojan doubles attack, which has only dropped the doubles point once through 10 matches this season. The duo is USC’s only ranked team in doubles, sitting at No. 12, while UCLA’s Giron and Mackenzie McDonald make up the Bruins’ only ranked doubles team, at No. 25.
In Tuesday’s matchup, the Trojans got off to a hot start and continued their dominance in doubles. Junior Eric Johnson and sophomore Max de Vroome topped UCLA’s Gage Brymer and Karue Sell on court three, 8-3, to get USC off on the right foot. On court one, Hanfmann and Sarmiento edged Giron and McDonald, 8-6, to win the doubles point for USC.
“We won doubles really easily,” said USC head coach Peter Smith. “I think we’re a little better than them in doubles at this point.”
The Trojans headed into singles play after a 45-minute break mandated by the Pac-12 Networks’ broadcast with a 1-0 lead, but found it difficult to maintain that margin. Both teams altered their lineups at the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spots, so Hanfmann found himself playing on court one, while Sarmiento played on court two. Giron, whom Hanfmann defeated in the semifinals of the ITA National Indoors, exacted revenge and beat the Karlsruhe, Germany native, 6-3, 6-4, to tie up the score at 1-1. Giron’s teammates also seemed hungry to take revenge against USC, winning the first set in all of the remaining five matches to put the Trojans on their heels.
“I do think what happens a lot for college guys is they lose and they’re really challenged the next match,” Smith said. “They come out and they’re really ready to go.”
UCLA took the lead when Sell handled de Vroome, dialing up a 6-1, 6-1 victory on court five. When Quiroz fell 6-4, 6-2 to UCLA’s McDonald on court three, the Bruins assumed a 3-1 lead and only needed one more win to clinch the match.
Sarmiento, Johnson and freshman Connor Farren were left to battle it out in hopes of making a comeback, but when Farren went down 7-5, 6-3 to UCLA’s Brymer on court four, he handed the Trojans’ bitter rivals the victory.
Though the Trojans conceded the match, they put one more point on the board when Johnson took down UCLA’s Joseph Di Giulio, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Sarmiento was the last player to finish, falling to top-ranked Thompson, 1-6, 7-6, 2-6.
“We’ve got to be able to hold serve … and be able to stay in there a little better,” Smith said. “I think it’s hard to learn from this one.”
The Trojans will regroup and head to San Diego on Thursday to take on the USD Toreros before blowing off some steam in the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships in La Jolla, Calif.