For the first time since 1994, the USC men’s tennis team has an opportunity to win the Pac-10 championship outright as UCLA looks to play the spoiler.
To go along with the season finale, USC will honor former coach Dick Leach — a four-time national championship winner — during the match scheduled to start at 3 p.m. at Marks Stadium.
The past three seasons have seen the No. 12 Bruins (13-6, 3-2) beat the No. 4 Trojans (19-2, 5-0) in the season’s final match to claim the Pac-10 title, but this year the momentum favors the Trojans.
USC has won its previous two matches against its rivals, including a 4-0 win at the ITA National Indoor Championships and a 6-1 victory at UCLA.
The reasons for the success so far this season against the UCLA rivals were not readily apparent, but doubles play and the team’s depth have been important factors.
“The big thing is that doubles have been solid this year,” sophomore Steve Johnson said. “J.T. [Sundling] and [Daniel] Nguyen really stepped up at No. 1 during the ITAs, which provided a big confidence boost.”
USC coach Peter Smith mentioned that the law of averages might be in effect after a period of success in past seasons for the Bruins.
“UCLA has had a good bit of fortune come their way the last few years,” Smith said. “The pendulum has started to swing in our favor recently.”
Even though the Trojans cannot pinpoint a specific reason for their recent streak of successes against the Bruins, they can definitely agree that no matter what the setting or the situation, the UCLA match seems to carry extra weight.
“Anytime we play UCLA it’s huge,” junior Jaak Poldma said. “It doesn’t matter when we play, we have to be ready to play them.”
The familiarity with the opponent has both pluses and minuses, but in general the experience many players have against one another is a benefit.
“It works both ways,” Johnson said of playing junior Holden Seguso twice this season already. “I feel it’s a good advantage for us. We know [UCLA’s] strengths and weaknesses; we understand what to avoid and what to attack.”
In the most recent ITA rankings, both teams are well represented, as the Trojans have five ranked singles players — including two top-10 players in No. 2 Johnson and No. 7 senior Robert Farah — and four doubles teams.
The Bruins have four players ranked in the top 100 for singles, along with two ranked doubles squads.
UCLA looks to head into this match with some extra incentive after falling to Arizona 4-3 in its previous match.
This was the first loss in UCLA history to the Wildcats, but the Trojans will not take the Bruins lightly no matter what recent history indicates.
“We know UCLA is capable,” Smith said. “ We are not going to be overconfident. We are not going to overlook any match.”