Only a storied rivalry can amplify the existing intensity of a battle between two top-five tennis powers.
In a crosstown clash against No. 3 UCLA (11-2), the No. 1 Trojans (14-0) extended their win streak to 34 matches with a 6-1 nonconference victory over the rival Bruins at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on Wednesday.
Despite battling a sore shoulder, No. 5 senior Steve Johnson clinched the victory for the Trojans with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 33 Nick Meister for USC’s 4-0 advantage and his 48th consecutive singles win.
“I just try to have fun out there and not think about any streak,” Johnson said. “To beat them on their home court is pretty special. We have a great group of guys on this team. I’m happy to see the progress that we’re making.”
On court five, USC freshman Yannick Hanfmann, ranked No. 38, claimed the first singles match over Dennis Mkrtchian 6-4, 6-1. No. 22 sophomore Ray Sarmiento then ousted UCLA’s No. 81 Clay Thompson 6-4, 6-3 before Johnson’s clincher.
After USC had wrapped up the victory, No. 15 senior Daniel Nguyen and freshman Roberto Quiroz took their matches, while No. 32 sophomore Emilio Gomez took his first singles loss in 11 matches for UCLA’s only point for the day.
“It felt really good to get the win here, especially in Westwood,” Sarmiento said. “I felt like the energy on our side was great.”
The Trojans began the match with a sweep in doubles action for a 1-0 advantage. Hanfmann and freshman Eric Johnson first paired up for a 9-7 win over Thompson and Warren Hardie.
Nguyen and Sarmiento, ranked No. 49 in the nation in doubles, followed with an 8-5 victory over the No. 52 pair Meister and sophomore Adrien Puget that notched the doubles point for USC.
On court two, Gomez and Quiroz capped off the final doubles match over Alex Brigham and Marcos Giron, 9-8.
USC’s victory snapped UCLA’s three-game winning streak and gave the Bruins their second loss of the season.
The Bruins currently lead the series 99-85, and the two squads will meet again on April 20 at Marks Stadium for each side’s regular season finale.
The new International Tennis Association rankings released Tuesday had bumped the Bruins up five spots to their No. 3 position, while the Trojans retained their top spot in the nation for the sixth consecutive week.
“[The rankings] are just numbers. It doesn’t really matter,” Sarmiento said. “Once we’re on the court, that’s when it matters. We just have to stick to our game plan and keep fighting.”
USC’s next dual match will be against Virginia Tech (4-3) on March 9 at 3 p.m. at Marks Stadium.
Before that, five pairs of Trojans will travel to La Jolla, Calif., to participate in the Pacific Coast Doubles Championship from March 1-4.
USC alumni Peter Lucassen and Jaak Poldma and USC coach Peter Smith and his son Tanner will also participate in the annual seven-round doubles competition.