The No. 2 USC men’s tennis team faced its first top-20 ranked opponent of the season Friday when it played host to No. 17 University of Texas at Marks Stadium. The match was billed as the first true test for USC, but the Trojans had all the answers, not dropping a single set en route to a 7-0 sweep of the Longhorns.
The proceedings kicked off with a hotly contested doubles point that saw junior Emilio Gomez and sophomore Eric Johnson fall 8-1 to the Longhorns’ tandem of senior Daniel Whitehead and junior David Holiner. The Trojans would recover by winning the two following doubles matches, both with a score of 8-6.
In singles play, Friday saw the return of junior Ray Sarmiento, who missed the first four matches because of an abdominal injury. Sarmiento, ranked No. 10 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, initially showed no signs of rust in his return to action against Texas junior Sudanwa Sitaram. Sarmiento’s calves, however, began to cramp at 5-0 in the first set, inhibiting his movement. Sarmiento would eventually recover and cruise to a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
“It felt good to be back out there with my teammates,” Sarmiento said. “I’m feeling fine. My [abdominal injury] is feeling better; I thank my PT [USC trainer Andrew Marcos] for that.”
Things did not go as smoothly for freshman Max de Vroome, who fought back from being down 5-2 in his first set against Holiner. De Vroome would recover and secure the first set in a tiebreak, 7-6(3). The second set turned out to be an encore of the first: Armed with a steely resolve and an overpowering first serve, de Vroome again fought back from being down a break 6-5 to clinch the sweep in tiebreaks for a final score of 7-6(3), 7-6. After the match, de Vroome admitted he had trouble “finding his game,” but gave credit to his opponent Holiner.
“I came back from being down 5-2. Normally you would be deflated,” de Vroome said. “But he just kept fighting.”
When de Vroome was asked what he could do to improve, he assumed full responsibility for Friday’s nail-biter.
“I have to be more consistent and disciplined in what I do,” de Vroome said.
For a team that has won four consecutive NCAA Division I titles, consistency can entail otherworldly standards. Despite a strong showing against the No. 17 team in the country, USC head coach Peter Smith insists that the Trojans are just looking forward with one goal in mind:
“Keep building,” Smith said. “All of [these matches] are glorified practice. We’re building towards something greater.”
Smith, architect of the current Trojan men’s tennis dynasty, will continue the building process as USC hosts highly touted Cal and Stanford on Friday and Saturday, respectively,