Trojans Thunder Back To NCAA Final
May 21, 2012
ATHENS, GA. - The top-seeded USC men's tennis team got the job done inside and out today, thanks to the hero of the Trojans' NCAA regime, senior Daniel Nguyen. Nguyen's resiliency sealed the deal on a wild NCAA Semifinal win for USC over crosstown rival UCLA, as he made a comeback push that he capped with a tiebreaker in the third set to give the Trojans a 4-1 win over the Bruins. That victory now sets up USC to defend its string of three straight national championships tomorrow (May 22) when the 32-1 Trojans face Virginia in the title match for the second year in a row. The final is set for 5 p.m. ET at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
The doubles point tightened up significantly after the Bruins managed an 8-4 win on court three. At the No. 1 spot, USC's #2 senior-freshman combo of Steve Johnson and Roberto Quiroz were able to ward off a push by UCLA's #44 Brigham/Puget to take an 8-6 win and even the score after Yannick Hanfmann and Emilio Gomez had fallen to Giron/Hardie at the No. 3 spot. That put the pressure on court two, where #35 Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento's refuse-to-lose attitude rang up the doubles point for the Trojans. Nguyen/Sarmiento had to gut out a tiebreaker to do it, pulling out of a 6-6 lockup with Meister/Novikov in the tiebreak to win 9-8 (8-6) and keep their win streak at a solid 15 in a row.
Lightning and thunder interrupted action midway through the first sets, forcing both semifinal matches to move indoors to be played out on two courts apiece. #1 Steve Johnson and #25 Ray Sarmiento took to the courts first for the Trojans, commencing their No. 1 and No. 2 singles matches, respectively. Both were holding good leads when the rains came, as Johnson led #62 Clay Thompson 4-1 and Sarmiento was up 4-0 on #16 Nick Meister.
Johnson kept it on cruise control once he took the courts, extending his run to 11 games in a row as he put away Meister 6-1, 6-1 and pulled the Trojans up 2-0. That also registered the senior's 65th consecutive singles victory. Sarmiento, too, was making headway in his No. 2 singles match. He plowed through Thompson with an identical 6-1, 6-1 decision to bump up the USC advantage to 3-0. After a long stretch of tennis, #57 sophomore Emilio Gomez was upended in his No. 4 singles match with #84 Marcus Giron as the Bruins managed to tally a point in the match and make it 3-1. #21 senior Daniel Nguyen was engaged in an all-out battle with Dennis Novikov at that point, forcing a third set and locked up 2-2 when UCLA got on the board with Giron's win.
Yannick Hanfmann got his match underway next door, but Nguyen was zoned in on his matchup with Novikov. A late break in the second set boosted confidence and an advantage for Nguyen, as he held serve next to claim the second and force the third. He and Novikov traded breaks, and a see-saw battle ensued, with Nguyen's back against a wall as he had the pressure on to hold serve the rest of the way. He did so, and brought up the tiebreaker. Novikov evened it at 2-2, but Nguyen was undeterred as he eased out ahead of his Bruin foe and hauled in a dramatic and powerful win on his 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) comeback effort that keeps the senior undefeated in NCAA singles matches in his career.
The USC men are now set up for the 2012 NCAA Championship match, where the Trojans face No. 3 seed Virginia at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday (May 22). When USC and Virginia tangled in the 2011 title match, the Trojans pulled out a 4-3 win - clinched by the one and only Daniel Nguyen - in the final in Palo Alto, Calif., to mark USC's third straight national championship.
2012 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS (Dan Magill Tennis Complex - Athens, Ga.)