Three other premier men’s tennis teams showed up to compete at the four-day Sherwood Collegiate Cup in Thousand Oaks, but No. 1 USC ensured that they could go home a little early.
In a tournament dominated by Trojans, senior Steve Johnson took home his first collegiate title since the 2011 NCAA singles championship after defeating fellow Trojan senior Daniel Nguyen 6-2, 6-2 on Monday.
Ten Trojans participated in a 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles draw. By the third day of the tournament, every player from No. 5 Baylor, No. 6 Stanford and No. 9 UCLA had been eliminated from play except a pair of Baylor Bears that eventually lost in the doubles semifinal round.
Despite falling to Johnson in the singles final, Nguyen still walked away victorious by joining forces with USC sophomore Ray Sarmiento to defeat teammates Johnson and Freshman Yannick Hanfmann in a tight 9-7 victory in the doubles title match.
“You always want to beat [Johnson] when you go up against him, but he looked unbelievable out there,” Nguyen said.
Johnson, No. 1 in the tournament and No. 1 in the International Tennis Association rankings, starts his return to collegiate action with a perfect 5-0 singles record after taking the fall semester off to train on the professional circuit.
In the all-USC singles final four, Johnson defeated sophomore Emilio Gomez 6-1, 6-4, while Nguyen beat his doubles partner Sarmiento 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the final round.
“For me, it’s a lot harder to play against a teammate,” Sarmiento said. “I just have to take it like it’s another match, like I’m playing UCLA or Stanford.”
Sarmiento had no problems, however, defeating his teammates en route to his doubles title with Nguyen. After two convincing wins over teams from Stanford and Baylor, Sarmiento and Nguyen eliminated teammates Gomez and freshman Roberto Quiroz in a narrow 9-8 (2) victory before taking down Johnson and Hanfmann.
The tournament was the Trojans’ first action on the court since December, and it precedes the team’s opening spring season doubleheader against Loyola Marymount and UC Santa Barbara at Marks Stadium on Jan. 21.
With so many Trojans making deep runs in singles and doubles draws, the team is confident in its depth and its potential to capture its fourth straight NCAA championship in the postseason.
“Our team is really good from bottom up,” Nguyen said. “It’s definitely one of the stronger teams I’ve been on.”