Men’s tennis set to clash with crosstown rivals

The last time UCLA came to Marks Stadium, on April 16, 2010,  things turned sour for the USC men’s tennis team as it was handed its first conference loss in the team’s last match of the Pac-10 season.

Rise to the top · Junior Steve Johnson has won 21 of his last 24 matches and was crowned the No. 1 player in the nation Tuesday. - Mannat Saini | Daily Trojan

USC still snatched the 2010 Pac-10 title, but the victory was made bittersweet by the unsettling 4-3 loss to its crosstown rival.

This year, No. 7 USC is determined to turn things around against visiting No. 6 UCLA when the two teams compete today at 3 p.m. In arguably the biggest match of the season, USC looks to protect its turf and come out with a dominant win.

“Last year we lost on our home courts in the Pac-10 tournament and we don’t want that again,” said junior Steve Johnson.

For many, today’s match is personal, especially as the Trojans look to continue their streak of consistent play that began with a 5-1 win last weekend against Stanford.

“We’d definitely like to get a big win, especially on our home courts,” Johnson said.

The Bruins are coming off a 5-2 upset by No. 20 California last weekend and are looking to make a comeback against USC.

Even though this marks the first Trojan-Bruin matchup of the tennis season, USC coach Peter Smith has emphasized the team must not treat this match that differently, even if a victory might taste extra sweet.

“We definitely approach these matches just like any other match,” said junior Daniel Nguyen. “We know every team is talented so we prepare ourselves to compete.”

The Trojans looked a little shaken against Cal last weekend coming off of their close loss at the ITA Indoor Championships, but came ready to play against the Cardinal.

Re-energizing focus, especially at this midway point in the season, seems to have made all the difference.

“The most important thing is to focus on the stuff we can control, such as improving in our doubles, singles and our fitness to help prevent these injuries,” Nguyen said.

In recent weeks, UCLA has been all the more dangerous. In the ITA Indoor Championships, the Bruins beat No. 10 Florida 4-3 and No. 15 Louisville 4-1, both of whom are upcoming opponents for USC.

Despite the success of their crosstown counterparts, the players know they must prepare and focus on their game.

“Our team goal is to continue to play at a high level and not worry about the wins or losses,” Nguyen said. “I think [we] really just [need to] take it one point at a time and play our hearts out.”

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