After spending their spring break in the Midwest, where they defeated Notre Dame and Illinois, the USC men’s tennis team hit the ground running back at home on Monday with a 6-1 victory over No. 14 Texas A&M to improve to 17-2 on the season.
The Trojans, ranked No. 3 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, were without the services of freshman phenom and former Pac-12 player of the week Max de Vroome, who was sidelined with a wrist injury.
The absence of de Vroome was hardly reason for panic, though, as USC cruised to pick up the doubles point behind the efforts of sophomore Roberto Quiroz and junior Emilio Gomez. The tandem of cousins from Guayaquil, Ecuador, dubbed “Team Ecuador” by USC head coach Peter Smith, was dominant in their fifth outing since Smith re-configured the doubles teams. Though the pair has yielded results, Smith was hesitant to about possible future pairings.
“I hope [the change is permanent]. If they lose their chemistry, they lose their partnership,” Smith said. “They’re good enough to win, we know that, but it’s about having the right mindset. They’re doing a great job.”
Gomez also led the way in singles, punishing the Aggies’ sophomore and top player Jeremy Efferding in a straight-sets victory that was very one-sided. Efferding, ranked No. 52 singles player in the nation by the ITA, struggled mightily against the icy, domineering play of Gomez.
Gomez played heavy, launching forehands deep and practically repainting the deep corners with screaming forehand winners. At the end of four games in the first set, the beleaguered Efferding’s shirt was drenched in sweat. The Aggie sophomore would fight valiantly throughout but would ultimately succumb, 6-0, 6-1, in a match that lasted 72 minutes.
“I was playing really heavy [and] waiting for my shots,” Gomez said. “I think this was one of my best matches of the whole year.”
Gomez’s fellow ITA top-10 teammate and junior captain Ray Sarmiento had a similar result in his match, but an unorthodox opponent in Texas A&M junior Junior Ore. Ore employed a variety of spin-heavy shots and a monstrous first serve in an attempt to confuse Sarmiento, who remained unfazed.
“[Ore] goes for a lot of his shots, but he’s pretty erratic,” Sarmiento said. “I used my slice really well and got him on his backhand. I looked to come in [towards the net] and it worked pretty well.”
Sarmiento neutralized the spin on the shots with his slice and outlasted Ore with superior footwork and by forcing the Aggie into difficult positions. At one point Ore, standing just behind the service box, fell to the floor chasing three separate defensive volleys until Sarmiento struck a cold-blooded passing shot into open space for a winner as Ore looked on from the ground.
Fan favorite sophomore Jonny Wang filled in at the No. 6 position for the sidelined de Vroome and looked comfortable in his role. After being down by two games in the second set, Wang fed off the energy of his supporters to climb back and dispatch Aggie sophomore Jordan Szabo in straight sets 6-2, 7-5.
“It felt pretty good. I tried to pump myself up, especially when I got down in the second set,” Wang said. “That really helped me come back strong and finish the match.”
Wang’s fellow sophomore Yannick Hanfmann started slow but finished strong to wrap up play on Monday with a victory over Texas A&M freshman Harrison Adams, 3-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-8).
The win was the team’s fifth straight since losing at home to rival UCLA and, with only seven matches remaining until the postseason, USC appears to be clicking at the right time.
The Trojans will continue their 2013 campaign for an unprecedented fifth-straight NCAA team championship with a visit to Northern California, where they open up official Pac-12 Conference play in matches against Stanford and Berkeley on Friday and Sunday, respectively.