Playing in front of an unfriendly crowd, the No. 5 USC men’s tennis team (9-1, 0-0) began another winning streak by defeating Pepperdine (3-3, 0-0) 6-1.
The Waves were motivated to play the formerly top-ranked Trojans on their home court, and their supporters encouraged the home team loudly and passionately.
“[Pepperdine] had a really good environment here, with many fans yelling at the players,” USC coach Peter Smith, who coached the Waves from 1998-2002, said. “You really have to earn everything you get.”
Even with the strong showing, the home-team support was not enough to overcome the Trojans’ strong performance.
Sophomores Steve Johnson and Daniel Nguyen started off the doubles portion with an 8-5 victory over their opponents, senior Bassam Beidas and sophomore Hugh Clarke.
In winning the doubles point, the newly ranked No. 30 duo of juniors Jaak Poldma and Peter Lucassen continued to display exceptional tennis. They extended their doubles win streak to seven matches with an 8-4 win.
The Trojans quickly asserted themselves during the singles portion, with Lucassen adding to the Trojan tally with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of No. 115 freshman Finn Tearney.
No. 27 senior Robert Farah quickly followed with a dominating performance of two-time All-American No. 44 Beidas 6-2, 6-3.
No. 68 Poldma sealed the team victory, cruising to a 6-4, 6-1 win after overcoming an inconsistent start.
In a compelling match, No. 1 sophomore Steve Johnson seemingly had victory in hand over sophomore Alex Llompart, winning the first set 6-1. During the second set, Llompart kept the crowd energized, winning several crucial break points and countering Johnson on some extended rallies. Johnson survived the effort and claimed the deciding second set, 7-5.
“Llompart is a great competitor,” Smith said. “Steve just has to do a better job to close him out.”
Play continued as sophomore Daniel Nguyen lost a back-and-forth three-set match, falling 4-6, 6-1, 0-1 (10-4).
Sophomore Matt Kecki finished out the match winning his fifth straight singles match 6-3, 6-3 over sophomore Daniel Moss.
USC responded well to its first true road test at a crucial juncture of its season.
The Trojans will have one more home match against San Diego State on Tuesday before starting Pac-10 conference play with three away matches.
Gaining confidence against a quality opponent and having to tune out the partisan crowd including several highly audible hecklers will help the handle the slate of conference matches.
Lucassen and Poldma have stood out recently, meshing well in doubles. Both have shined as individuals.
“They have turned it on as of late, and both have been playing great,” Smith said in describing the juniors’ latest performances.
Although USC displayed some dominant tennis, some flaws were still evident.
Farah and freshman JT Sundling were not able to close out a match in which they led five games to three, and which would eventually settle in a tiebreaker.
In that tiebreaker, they were unable to convert three match points, eventually losing to Llompart and Tearney.
“It was not perfect, but it was a good result for us,” Smith said.