Men’s tennis begins busy fall season

Katie Chin | Daily Trojan

This week, the sixth-ranked men’s tennis kicked off its fall tournament schedule at the Claremont Futures Tournament in Claremont, Calif., as USC looked to earn wildcard spots in the Claremont Pro Futures Tournament. Trojan juniors Jack Jaede and Laurens Verboven surpassed the qualifying round and competed in the main draw on Wednesday. Both entered the tournament unseeded. Jaede defeated teammate Thibault Forget to advance, while Verboven took out the No. 1 seed, Cal graduate Florian Lakat, 6-4, 7-5.

The Men of Troy now have a packed schedule for the remainder of September, traveling around California to play in various tournaments, and topping off the month in Tulsa, Okla., for the St. Francis Health System ITA All-American Championships on Sept. 30. The squad’s only home match will take place on
Oct. 26, in the SoCal Intercollegiate Championships.

Though every team, every year must face the loss of its graduates, the Trojans are coming back from their loss with an interesting twist. David Laser, Nick Crystal and Rob Bellamy have now finished their collegiate tennis careers, making room for a pair of impact freshmen: Daniel Cukierman and Mateusz Smolicki.

“They bring a love for the game of tennis and maturity,” head coach Peter Smith said. “Although they are freshmen, they are both a little older and are not your typical freshmen.”

Cukierman, 21, and Smolicki, 19, are currently ranked on the ATP World Tour at 579 and 610, respectively.

Last year, the Trojans clinched their third Pac-12 championship in an upset over UCLA. However, coming off of a conference title means little to Smith.

“This is ’SC — a lot more is expected than a Pac-12 championship,” Smith said.

After winning the conference, however, the Trojans could not keep the ball rolling through the NCAA Championships. After entering as the No. 4 seed, the team made easy work of Denver in the first round, defeating the Pioneers 4-0. In the Sweet Sixteen, USC topped Wisconsin 4-0.

But the Trojans couldn’t overcome Georgia in the quarterfinals. USC fell 4-3 in a tight loss to the No. 13 seed, and the Bulldogs went on to lose to Virginia in the championship as the Cavaliers took home their third straight national title.

USC aims to rebound from last season’s disappointment, starting with a strong fall season. The team will be in Napa, Calif., for its next tournament on Friday. The Napa Challenge kicks off on Sept. 15 and runs through the weekend.