After winning an unprecedented four consecutive national championships, USC’s men’s tennis team enters the 2012-13 dual -match season this Friday ranked No. 2 in the nation. Based on the team’s success over the past few years, USC was chosen as one of 15 hosts of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend tournament.
The tournament features four teams and spans two days. The first match of the weekend features the No. 69 Fresno State Bulldogs against the No. 60 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Then, USC will square off against the No. 66 San Diego State Aztecs. The winner of each of these matches will play for the championship and a berth to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
Last weekend, USC competed at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup in Thousand Oaks, Calif., against teams from UCLA, Cal, Baylor and Stanford. Sophomore Ray Sarmiento, USC’s highest-ranked singles player at No. 10 in the country, took home the singles title by defeating Adrien Puget of UCLA. Junior Emilio Gomez and sophomore Eric Johnson advanced to the doubles championship but were defeated in a close match by sophomores Marcos Giron and Dennis Novikov, a pair from UCLA.
In the quarterfinals of doubles play, sophomore Yannick Hanfmann was forced to retire because of injury, but has since been fully participating in practices. USC coach Peter Smith described Hanfmann as “a little banged up,” but he has confidence in his team.
“If guys are down, you’ve got to depend on the other guys to step up,” Smith said.
SDSU also had success in its first weekend of play, sweeping the UC San Diego Tritons and the UC Riverside Highlanders in its season opener at Aztec Tennis Center. The Aztecs are led by senior Derek Siddiqui and sophomore Thorsten Bertsch, both of whom earned all-conference honors in 2012. Sophomore Andranik Khachatryan is their only ranked player, listed as No. 123 in the country.
In its matchup last season, USC shut out SDSU 7-0 without the help of senior standout Steve Johnson to improve to 34-3 all-time against the Aztecs. At the time, USC held the No. 1 ranking while SDSU ranked No. 60. In the match, USC showcased its younger talent, with impressive wins by Hanfmann, Roberto Quiroz, Eric Johnson, Jordi Vives (who has since transferred) and Jonny Wang, who were all freshmen at the time. Despite the disparity in rankings and the outcome of last year’s match, the Trojans aren’t taking their opponents lightly.
“We won’t approach this match any differently, no matter who we’re playing,” Smith said.
Should USC defeat SDSU, the team would advance to play either Georgia Tech or Fresno State in the championship match. To begin its season, Georgia Tech defeated Old Dominion, 5-2, and Lipscomb, 4-3. The Yellow Jackets boast the No. 3 doubles team in the country, comprising senior Juan Spir and sophomore Vikram Hundal. Fresno State lost its first match to Saint Mary’s 4-3 and split a double-header, losing to Cal Poly 4-1 but defeating UC Riverside 4-0. Fresno State coach Evan Austin is in his first year with the Bulldogs and the team recently added two new players, Nikolas Papic and Felipe Fritz, from Santiago, Chile.
Georgia Tech plays Fresno State on Friday, Jan. 25, at 10 a.m. Then, USC faces SDSU at 1 p.m. The consolation game will be played on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 3 p.m. and the championship match will be held at 6 p.m. All matches will be played at Marks Tennis Stadium.