Three consecutive road matches against three top-ranked teams could not deter the USC men’s tennis team from its undefeated start to the spring dual match season.
No. 1 USC extended its record to 7-0 after a 6-1 victory over the No. 12 Pepperdine Waves (3-3) in Malibu on Friday. The clash against the Waves comes after road wins over No. 6 Stanford and No. 13 California last week and precedes the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Virginia next weekend.
After the Trojans narrowly escaped with the doubles point against the Waves, USC garnered the victory with five consecutive singles wins, all in straight sets.
USC sophomore Ray Sarmiento, ranked No. 12, took down No. 49 Mousheg Hovhannisyan 7-5, 6-1 to give the Trojans a 4-0 advantage and to guarantee USC’s seventh win of the season.
Before Sarmiento’s clincher, senior Steve Johnson gave USC its first singles point with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 21 junior Sebastian Fanselow, followed by a 6-4, 6-3 decision by No. 33 freshman Yannick Hanfmann over No. 106 senior Hugh Clarke.
“[Clarke] was serving and volleying, and I hit good returns so I got him out of his game,” Hanfmann said.
USC sophomore Emilio Gomez, ranked No. 48, and freshman Roberto Quiroz finished off their opponents to round out the final points for USC and earn their sixth and ninth consecutive singles wins, respectively.
Pepperdine scored its sole point off No. 35 Finn Tearney’s 6-3, 7-6 (5) upset over No. 16 senior Daniel Nguyen, which came after the Trojans had pulled ahead 6-0.
Prior to USC’s singles wins, both sides battled for nearly an hour and a half in doubles action.
Each squad took a doubles win, setting up a battle for the doubles point between USC’s Johnson and Hanfmann and Pepperdine’s Tearney and Alex Llompart.
“We knew it was going to be on us to clinch it,” Hanfmann said. “We had some close games until the tiebreak. It was really tight but really good.”
Looking poised to notch their fourth straight doubles win, the USC pair quickly pulled ahead to a 5-2 lead.
A late rally by the Pepperdine pair, however, forced the match into a tiebreaker, which Johnson and Hanfmann escaped to finalize a 9-8 (7-1) victory and USC’s first point of the match.
“We let it slip, but once it got to the tiebreaker, we really fought together,” Johnson said. “It was good to see Yannick and I forget about the opportunity we had at the beginning and focus on the task at hand.”
After a week of rest, the Trojans will take their 26-match winning streak to Virginia and will participate in the National Team Indoor Championships, which pits 16 of the best teams in the nation in a four-day tournament from Feb. 17 to Feb. 20.
“Every match is a stepping stone to get better, and we’re getting hot at the right time,” Johnson said. “I think we’re in a really good position to make a good run in Indoors.”