Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
For the first time since 1988, the USC men's tennis team took home the ITA National Team Indoor Championships last weekend in Charlottesville, VA, thanks to a heroic effort from the most unlikeliest source.
With the top-ranked Trojans deadlocked 3-3 with No. 3 Ohio State in the finals Sunday, the indoor title rested on the freshman shoulders of No. 5 singles Yannick Hanfmann (pictured right by the Pac-12).
Hanfmann, a native of Karlshule, Germany, had already lost his doubles match with reigning NCAA singles champion Steve Johnson earlier in the day, and his winner take all tussle with Buckeyes' redshirt junior Devin McCarthy did not start according to plan.
"In that first set I just got outplayed," Hanfmann said on falling behind after dropping the set 3-6. "[McCarthy] just played very well, and I struggled to match his intensity. From there, I just tried to play my game and knew he couldn't keep up with the pace he had established in the first set. In a lot of ways, I think it was great for me to lose my doubles match earlier in the day, because I felt prepared to face any adversity that might come my way in the final match."
After breaking McCarthy in the second set, the poised freshman never looked back, taking the final two frames with relative ease en route to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
"I knew I could win that match and that's a big part of it," said Hanfmann. "Even as people started coming to watch and the noise level got louder, I stayed calm and tried to blur out everything around me. When it was tied in the third set, people got a little bit crazy, but I focused on staying in the moment. And in the end, I was able to come through for my team."
Hanfmann's clutch play secured the program's third championship in the team indoor tournament, and extended the Trojans' dual-match win streak to 30.
While Hanfmann has received plenty of recognition in the days that have followed his championship-clinching win, including being named Pac-12 Player of the Week, the freshman says he owes a lot of the credit to his doubles partner, Johnson.
"To be thrown into a No. 1 doubles pairing with the top player in the country, it's an honor and a great opportunity for me as a freshman," said Hanfmann of Johnson. "It probably makes him better having to play with a weaker player like me, but he is always so great with me out there. It makes my job easier because of how patient he is with me. My play has definitely been elevated just playing with him, because along the way I have learned so much."
While the Johnson-Hanfmann (pictured above by NCAA.com) duo dropped their final match against Ohio State, the two did manage to beat Duke's top doubles pairing in the quarterfinals (ranked No. 13 in the country) and Georgia's 1-2 punch (ranked No. 7 in the country) in the semifinals.
Although the underclassmen know what's at stake this season regarding the potential historic four-peat for the senior class, Hanfmann believes there isn't a huge sense of pressure riding on the young guys to perform outside their means.
"From top to bottom, we just trust each other," said Hanfmann (pictured far left with the Class of 2011). "No matter what's the score or who we are playing, as a team we trust that whoever is called upon will make a big play. We have some really great players and leaders in Steve [Johnson] and Daniel [Nguyen], but if we are to reach the ultimate goal we all want, each of us needs to have an equal hand. And I think right now, that's our mindset."
With their ITA win over the weekend, the Trojans improved to 11-0 on the season, their best mark to start a season since 1987. Hanfmann and company return to Marks Stadium today, where they host San Diego State and San Diego in a day-night doubleheader.