USC tennis alumni battle top pros at U.S. Open

Men's tennis felled in both singles and doubles finals in Irvine | Daily  Trojan
USC alumnus Steve Johnson fell to Lithuanian Ričardas Berankis this week at the U.S. Open (Daily Trojan file photo)

Although it seemed unlikely when the coronavirus pandemic first began, the tennis U.S. Open is underway in New York this week, opening Monday and running through Sept. 13. In both the men and women’s brackets, former USC players are hitting the courts to play against some of the strongest competition in the world. 

In the men’s bracket, No. 1 doubles player Robert Farah and No. 64 singles player Steve Johnson began play this week. In their collegiate years, both Farah and Johnson were part of the nationally acclaimed Trojan men’s tennis teams that won NCAA team national titles in 2009 and 2010 and were ranked No. 2 in doubles for that season. Johnson went on to aid the Trojans to team titles in 2011 and 2012. 

On Monday, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Johnson won an electrifying upset against well-respected American player No. 16 John Isner at Louis Armstrong Stadium. It took five sets — 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 — with Johnson winning the final tiebreaker 7-3. 

“You can’t get frustrated when John’s hitting aces,” Johnson said to the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour about Isner’s iconic serve and his 52 aces during the match. “I guessed right a lot and they still got by me. It’s just the way it is.”

However, Johnson went on to lose to Lithuanian Ričardas Berankis in four sets in the second round Wednesday, 5-7, 2-6, 6-1, 6-7, ending Johnson’s run at this year’s tournament.

Former U.S. Open and Wimbledon winner Farah will look to defend his doubles title this year with fellow Colombian Juan Sebastián Cabal as the No. 1 doubles team in the world Saturday against No. 21 Jean-Julien Rojer and No. 20 Horia Tecau. 

Farah and Cabal played Thursday against French Édouard Roger-Vasselin and Austrian Jürgen Melzer, easily winning in two sets — 6-2, 6-3 — showing off their dominance on the courts. 

In the women’s bracket, there are three former USC players playing in New York. There is the all-Trojan doubles team of No. 65 ranked Giuliana Olmos from Mexico and No. 63 ranked American Kaitlyn Christian as well as the doubles duo of former Trojan No. 66 ranked American Sabrina Santamaria and Australian Arina Rodionova. 

During their collegiate career at USC, Olmos consistently ranked among the top players in the nation while attaining impressive honors such as ITA All-American and All-Pac-12 First Team in the 2014-15 season. Both Santamaria and Christian also earned superb honors during their time with the Trojan tennis team. In the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, they were one of the top doubles teams in the nation, reaching No. 1 at one point and winning the NCAA doubles national titles in both seasons.

Olmos and Christian competed against the No. 1 doubles team of Hungarian Timea Babos and French Kristina Mladenovic of France for their first match Thursday. Despite a strong effort, they lost 2-6, 2-6.

In their first match Wednesday, Santamaria and Rodionova faced the No. 2 doubles team of Belgian Elise Mertens and Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka but lost in straight sets 2-6, 0-6. 

Although many Trojans’ time in New York has come to an end, the former USC stars proved capable of handling some of the top professional heat in the game — and some are still looking to prove even more as play continues.