Trojans Take A Trip To NCAA Quarterfinals|
May 27, 2011
STANFORD, CALIF. -- Steve Johnson hasn't had a lot of opportunities to earn the moniker of "Comeback Kid." Until today. The top-seeded junior hadn't lost a set in more than a month. He hadn't lost a match since January. But in his NCAA Singles Round of 16 showdown with last year's No. 1 player, Tennessee senior John-Patrick Smith, Johnson found himself in an unfamiliar position -- down a break in a rare third set. But Johnson didn't build up a 31-match win streak without also grooming a knack for closing speed. Johnson pulled even, forcing a tiebreak, and then went into high gear again to blow out of reach of Smith for a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (2) win that jumps Johnson into tomorrow's NCAA Quarterfinals.
"He played really good tennis," Johnson said of his clash with Smith. "In the first set we both came out maybe a little nervous or tired and there were a couple of breaks of serve, but then it just turned into regular tennis. He's hitting big serves and I am hitting big serves. For a big guy, he has some unbelievable defense. He gets his racquet on every ball. I was having to hit three or four winners on a regular guy to get one point. It's draining because he gets to every ball and just makes you keep fighting. It's no easy task. I felt like I was hitting my forehand pretty good and thought I would get a winner, then it comes back. I thought I hit another one and then it comes back. He just gets his racquet on everything and it is just not easy to win.
"I played very well in the first and the third set, especially towards the end of the third. I think I just lost my mental focus in the second set and just kind of let the last week and this week get to me. I was just kind of tiring. I found a couple lucky breaks in the 4-2 or 4-3 game and that kind of changed the match around."
Already a three-time NCAA Team Champion with the Trojans, Johnson is looking to become the first Trojan to win an NCAA Singles Championship since Cecil Mamiit in 1996, and the first player to win NCAA team and singles titles in the same year since 2004 (Baylor's Benjamin Becker). Now with three rounds in the books and a 32-match win streak behind him, Johnson heads into the NCAA Quarterfinals to face Ohio State's No. 5 seed Blaz Rola. The last time Johnson and Rola faced was back in November, when Johnson pinned up a 6-1, 6-4 victory in the ITA/USTA National Indoor Semifinals.
Johnson's Round of 16 singles match was the first of three Trojan matches on the day out at Stanford's Taube Tennis Stadium. Freshman Ray Sarmiento had his own Singles Round of 16 match start up on Johnson's court soon after, and USC women's doubles pair Kaitlyn Christian and Maria Sanchez had an afternoon call-time for their Doubles Round of 16 match.
Sarmiento fell behind in the first set to take a 6-4 loss there before hanging tight to Mississippi's Marcel Thiemann in the second. A break just past the halfway point of the set, however, dropped Sarmiento back once again, and the freshman fell short of making a push to the Quarterfinals in taking a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Thiemann. That wraps up Sarmiento's first year as a Trojan with a powerful 36-10 overall singles record as he also finishes as a singles All-American to go along with his honors on the All-Pac-10 Second Team.
The last match of the day for USC was a doubles match with No. 3 seeded Kaitlyn Christian / Maria Sanchez setting up against Notre Dame's Frilling/Matthews. That powerhouse pairing of Women of Troy was far too much for the Fighting Irish. Christian/Sanchez got up a break in the first set and held strong to take the lead, then gained extra momentum in the second set to put Frilling/Matthews far behind on the way to a 6-4, 6-2 USC victory. Christian/Sanchez are now propelled into the NCAA Quarterfinals tomorrow, where the Trojans will face either Washington's Chan/Dy or Miami's Bartenstein/Eichkorn. A combination of the ITA Southwest Region Player to watch and the ITA National Senior Player of the Year, Christian/Sanchez are making their push to become USC's first-ever NCAA Doubles champions.
2011 NCAA SINGLES CHAMPIONSHIPS (Stanford, Calif.)
2011 NCAA DOUBLES CHAMPIONSHIPS