USC Beats Texas To Take Aim At NCAA Championship
May 18, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS - The USC men's tennis team takes aim at the NCAA title tomorrow after pounding out a 4-1 win over Texas in today's semifinals. Back in the semis for the first time since 2004, the Trojans were hungry to make a push to the title match, pouncing early with a tight doubles point. Texas got the first singles win of the day, but the Trojans rallied ahead with straight-set wins from USC's top two Robert Farah and Steve Johnson before getting the clincher in a three-setter from freshman Matt Kecki. Now holding a 24-5 overall record, No. 8 seed USC plays for its 17th NCAA Championhship - and first since 2002 - in a 2 p.m. CT match against No. 3 Ohio State on Tuesday (May 19) at Texas A&M's George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
Somewhat passed over in the excited shuffle of USC's quarterfinal upset of Virginia on Sunday was a benchmark win for USC head coach Peter Smith. USC's 4-0 win over the Cavaliers was Smith's 400th career victory. Today's semifinal win over Texas puts Smith at a 401-191 career record as he rounds out his 22nd season as a head coach.
Clear skies were back in College Station for the NCAA Semifinals, as USC forged its path to the title match. The doubles point would not come easily, however. The Trojans saw Texas grab the first match in an 8-4 win at No. 2 with #60 Longhorns Kutrovsky/Zavala getting the win over USC's #59 Abdullah Magdas / Daniel Nguyen. USC got a boost when #4 Robert Farah / Steve Johnson got a late rally, finally stealing a break from the Longhorns to take a 7-6 lead. Thanks to some heroics from Johnson, who managed to save a long ball with a perfect lob from against the wall, USC sidestepped break point and Farah held serve to win the match 8-6 at the No. 1 slot over Texas' #27 Corrie/Damico. That left the No. 3 doubles court as the decider. USC's Matt Kecki / Jaak Poldma saw Texas' Reyes Varela/Sajous break back to get within one, but the Trojans generated a three-game rally to secure the doubles point with an 8-4 win.
Singles got underway with the Longhorns pushing to make things interesting by getting a point on the board from the No. 3 singles position. There, #80 Kellen Damico got ahead of USC's #81 Jaak Poldma and worked to a 6-1, 6-3 victory that made it a 1-1 match. The lockup was short-lived, however, as USC's powerful top two singles players got straight-set wins to bring the Trojans ahead 3-1. #53 freshman Steve Johnson finished off Texas' #69 Ed Corrie 6-2, 6-1 thanks to a dominating effort from the service line to round out the victory. Meanwhile, #8 Robert Farah was putting together a similarly strong push against #19 Dimitar Kutrovsky. Farah got up two breaks early in the second and then shrugged off a break of his own midway through to charge toward USC's third point of the day with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
At No. 4, #106 senior Abdullah Magdas was pushed to a third set with Olivier Sajous with the players holding serve in the third. The match clincher looked to be set for either court five or court six - both Trojan freshmen - as Daniel Nguyen had pulled ahead 5-3 in the second set at No. 6 and Matt Kecki was rallying in the third. Nguyen's opponent Miguel Reyes Varela managed a late break to draw out the finish on that court, while Kecki strode farther ahead of Longhorn Josh Zavala. Kecki would go down as the clincher when the freshman tacked up one last break of Zavala for a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win that iced a 4-1 win for USC. Nguyen was left leading Reyes Varela 7-6 (1), 5-4 at No. 5, and Magdas saw his match suspended at 7-5, 3-6, 2-2.
Today's semifinal was USC's second match of the year against Texas, with the Trojans getting a 4-1 win over the then-No. 2 Longhorns at the ITA National Indoor Championships in February in Chicago.
NCAA NOTES & QUOTES
USC advances to the championships match and will take on Ohio State Tuesday at 2 p.m... USC has won 16 national championships in men's tennis, the last coming in 2002 in College Station.
USC Head Coach Peter Smith
USC junior Robert Farah
(On Steve Johnson's lob hit in doubles)
Texas Head Coach Michael Center
"We were obviously counting on 6 today. Miguel Reyes Varela has been a great player, particularly in this tournament. Daniel Ngyuen pushed Miguel harder than he had been pushed, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he just played so well. So, I have to give him credit. For some reason, I don't feel like we were quite a sharp today mentally. Overall I feel like they just out-played us.
"I don't think a lot of people thought we were going to be in the final four in this tournament, but we really rallied. These guys believe in the hard work.
Texas sophomore Kellen Damico