The top-seeded USC men’s tennis team returns to the site of its 2010 and 2012 NCAA Championship victories as the Trojans continue their pursuit of another national title in Athens, Ga., this week. The 2014 Trojans carry a 28-3 overall record into this year’s journey to Athens, where USC will face No. 16 seed Columbia in the NCAA Round of 16 at 9 a.m. ET on May 16. A win there would put the Trojans in the Quarterfinals for the eighth consecutive year, with that match set for May 18. The NCAA Semifinals will be played on May 19 followed by the May 20 NCAA Championship match at 5 p.m. ET at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
USC is making its eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, and 36th overall appearance. The Trojans take a 28-3 overall record into the coming NCAA Round of 16 after beating Idaho 4-0 and Oklahoma State 4-1 in the first two rounds of NCAA action last week. The top-seeded Trojans are looking to get back to the NCAA title match, which USC reached and won from 2009-2012 in claiming four straight titles. Last year, USC came up short of an unprecedented five-in-a-row after falling in the 2013 NCAA Quarterfinals to Ohio State. USC leads the nation with 20 national championships all-time, and holds an 89-30 overall record in the NCAA Tournament. USC’s last NCAA appearance as a No. 1 seed was in 2012, when the Trojans rolled to their fourth consecutive NCAA title. During that four-year championship run, USC was tabbed at No. 8 in 2009, No. 5 in 2010, No. 2 in 2011 and No. 1 in 2012. USC was a No. 4 seed last year.
TROJANS TO DATE
The USC men raced undefeated through Pac-12 regular-season competition, building a 17-match win streak along the way before finishing second in the Pac-12 Team Tournament in Ojai. After an NCAA Quarterfinal appearance last season, the Trojans have regrouped and are loaded up with a near-full lineup of ranked singles players. #9 senior is at the top of the packed house, which includes #10 Yannick Hanfmann, #42 Roberto Quiroz, #57 Jonny Wang and #91 Max de Vroome. On the doubles scene, USC has Hanfmann and Sarmiento ranked #1 in the nation, and Nick Crystal and Grant at #68. In all, USC boasts three ITA All-Americans on its 2014 roster in Hanfmann, Quiroz and Sarmiento — all three of whom have already been members of at least one NCAA Championship Team. At 28-3 overall, USC has secured its eighth straight 20-win season.
ITA RANKINGS UPDATES
The Trojans -- winners of four consecutive NCAA Championships from 2009-2012 and the nation’s leader with 20 total titles -- opened their 2014 campaign ranked No. 4 in the nation. After a runner-up finish at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, USC had moved up to stand at No. 2, shifted to No. 4 for a bit, and then took over as the nation’s top-ranked team on March 25 — the first time since the end of 2012 that the Trojans had been at No. 1. This week, USC is back at No. 1 in the land as of May 1. In the individual rankings (released May 1), senior Ray Sarmiento continues to lead the pack, ranked No. 9 in the nation in singles. He is joined on the national rankings list by four more Trojans -- No. 10 junior Yannick Hanfmann, No. 42 Roberto Quiroz, No. 57 junior Jonny Wang and No. 91 Max de Vroome. In doubles, Hanfmann/Sarmiento rank No. 1 in the land and Crystal/Grant are at No. 68.
USC kept its eyes on the prize in a 4-2 takedown of crosstown rival UCLA, finishing off an undefeated Pac-12 regular season for the Trojans while steamrolling along to a 16th consecutive victory. The No. 5 Bruins were able to snag the early advantage with the doubles point, but USC was resolute in its mission in singles. The Trojans would break open a 2-2 tie when Max de Vroome and Roberto Quiroz dug in to win three-setters, with Quiroz clinching from court three. The win put USC at 25-2 overall, and the 7-0 Pac-12 mark gave the Trojans the No. 1 seed into this week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Ojai, Calif. In doubles action, USC drew first blood when #2 Yannick Hanfmann and Ray Sarmiento delivered an 8-4 win on court one over UCLA’s #58 Giron/Sell. Sarmiento sealed the deal with an ace to finish off the Bruins in that one, but UCLA was able to take the upper hand in the remaining matches. On court two, Trojans Nick Crystal and Roberto Quiroz were in stride with Bruins Di Giulio/Thompson to bring up a tiebreaker there. UCLA would work into a 4-1 lead in the breaker and push on to win the match 8-7 (3), leaving the decider on court three. There, USC’s Max de Vroome and Eric Johnson were down a break, and Bruins McDonald/Puget were able to capitalize, notching an 8-4 win that wrapped up the early advantage for No. 5 UCLA. The Trojans’ homecourt pride shined through in singles action next. On court five, USC’s Eric Johnson had shrugged off his doubles defeat and charged up for a powerful and relatively speedy 6-1, 7-5 win over Karue Sell to level the match 1-1. The marquee match of the day featured USC’s #16 Yannick Hanfmann and UCLA’s top-ranked Clay Thompson on court one. Hanfmann showed no fear against the #1 senior Bruin, taking the first set 6-4 and then digging out of a 1-3 hole in the second set, delivering one final break of the hard-hitting Thompson to craft a 6-4, 7-5 win that punched up a 2-1 lead for the Trojans. UCLA fired back on court two when #5 Marcos Giron topped USC’s #9 Ray Sarmiento with a 7-5, 6-3 decision that evened the score at 2-2, while the remaining matches all stretched into third sets. Things tightened up at that point, with Trojans trailing during two of those three third sets. USC’s #95 sophomore Max de Vroome, however, never trailed in his third set, despite having some wind taken out of his sails in dropping his second set against #94 Gage Brymer. Once up a break in the third, de Vroome stubbornly stayed in control the rest of the way. He’d take the Trojans to a 3-2 advantage with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over Brymer to leave things up to the remaining Trojans on court. Both #53 Roberto Quiroz and #120 Michael Grant got down a break in their respective matches on courts three and six, and both made roaring comebacks. Quiroz would hit the finish line first. He’d rattle off the last three games of his match with #74 Gage Brymer to claim the clincher on a 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 victory. That win also tallied the junior’s 16th consecutive singles victory. Grant, meanwhile, had his comeback efforts against Joseph De Giulio halted at 1-6, 6-3, 4-4 when Quiroz registered the winner for the Trojan cause.
BY THE NUMBERS
To date, there are a whopping six Trojans in the 20-win club on the singles scene this season. Roberto Quiroz hit the mark first and also beat his teammates to 30, having notched that 30th win last week. Fellow junior Eric Johnson and sophomore Max de Vroome also have locked in the club with 29 and 24 wins, respectively. Junior Jonny Wang got there next and now holds a 20-7 record, while senior Ray Sarmiento (20-9) and junior Yannick Hanfmann (21-5) hit the 20-win mark during the Pac-12 Tournament. Johnson and doubles teammate de Vroome are the lone Trojan pair to hit the 20-win zone in doubles, holding a 26-9 record to date.
HANFMANN ON TOP
Junior Yannick Hanfmann is half of the nation’s No. 1 doubles team with partner Ray Sarmiento. Their doubles prowess shined in a court one win during a regular-season battle with No. 5 UCLA, but it was Hanfmann’s singles touch that shined even brighter that week. He went big for the Trojans in their home victory over the rival Bruins, following up a win in doubles with a huge straight-set upset of the nation’s #1 player, Clay Thompson, on court one. After an 8-4 doubles win on court one with Sarmiento, Hanfmann stayed the course for a powerful statement in singles. He would upset #1 Thompson with a 6-4, 7-5 win that took the Trojans to a 2-1 lead over the Bruins - en route to an eventual 4-2 final victory over UCLA. For his dominating day, Hanfmann would pick up his second selection this season as the Pac-12 Player of the Week on April 22. Hanfmann is now 20-5 overall in singles this season. He and Sarmiento are now 13-2 together in doubles play.
ITA INDOOR ACTION
On Feb. 14-17 in Houston, USC worked its way through to the title match of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships for the third straight season. The No. 3 seeded Trojans opened up with a 4-1 win over No. 14 Tennessee in the Round of 16 before taking down No. 6 Baylor in the quarterfinals. That set up an early clash against crosstown rival UCLA in the semifinals. The Trojans and the Bruins had met in last year’s semi as well, and this season the Trojans replicated their efforts with another 4-3 victory over UCLA. Yannick Hanfmann held on for the clincher in that one, upsetting #5 Marcos Giron with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory that sealed the tight win for the Trojans and sent them into the title match for the third year in a row. There, USC was up against an upset-minded No. 5 seed Ohio State, which had upended top-seeded Virginia in the semifinals. The Buckeyes handed the Trojans their first loss of a double point on the year, and went on to post a 4-1 decision over USC to claim the title. USC junior Roberto Quiroz was the lone Trojan to come away from the tourney unscathed, having won two doubles and two singles matches during the action. For his winning efforts, Quiroz was named Pac-12 Player of the Week. He also earned spots on the ITA All-Tournament Team at No. 3 singles and at No. 2 doubles with freshman Connor Farren.
RO IN CONTROL
Roberto Quiroz has emerged as USC’s most decorated player this season. His fall was highlighted by another USTA Clay Court singles championship, which had been preceded by a run to the ITA Southwest Regional doubles final, where he and teammate Ray Sarmiento fell in the title match to fellow Trojans Max de Vroome and Eric Johnson. In the spring to date, Quiroz has picked up two sets of Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. And at a national level he holds spots on the ITA National Team Indoor Championships All-Tournament Team at No. 3 singles and at No. 2 doubles with partner Connor Farren. Now ranked No. 42 in the nation in singles, Quiroz leads the Trojans to date with 29 singles wins, riding a 17-match win streak, while his dual-match singles count stands at a powerful 21-1.
USC not only boasts the top seed into the coming NCAA Team Championships, the Trojans also are locked in with plenty of strength in individual action. Yannick Hanfmann and Ray Sarmiento reign supreme as the top-seeded pair in the NCAA Doubles Championships, with both also taking spots in the NCAA Singles Championships along with teammates Roberto Quiroz and Jonny Wang. All the action is set to kick off after the NCAA Team Championships in Athens, Ga. NCAA Individual Championship play runs May 21-26 at Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex. Hanfmann and Sarmiento also rank #1 in the nation in doubles together, boasting a 13-2 overall record together on the year. This will be Hanfmann’s first NCAA Doubles appearance and the second for Sarmiento, who paired with Steve Johnson as a freshman with a first-round appearance. The top seeds in this year’s doubles draw, Hanfmann and Sarmiento are aiming to replicate the efforts of USC’s Robert Farah and Kaes Van’t Hof, who won the 2008 NCAA Doubles Championship -- the last Trojans to do so. Ray Sarmiento is a veteran of NCAA Singles competition. A three-time ITA All-American in singles, the senior is now looking to delve even deeper into the NCAA draw. He has made two trips to the Round of 16 -- in his freshman and junior seasons -- with a Round of 32 visit in 2012. Ranked #10 in the nation in singles currently and with a 20-9 overall record, Sarmiento has picked up a 9-16 seed for the coming 2014 NCAA Singles Championships. So, too, has Hanfmann, who holds a 20-5 overall singles record this year to date. The #13-ranked junior has a 9-16 seed in his pocket as he heads into his third appearance in the NCAA singles scene. He reached the Round of 16 last season as a sophomore and played in the first round as a freshman in 2012 -- the year he clinched the Trojans’ fourth straight NCAA Team Championship. Now, he returns to Athens to pull double duty with his spots in singles and doubles alongside Sarmiento. Junior Quiroz has secured his second trip into NCAA Singles competition. A doubles quarterfinalist with Steve Johnson as a freshman, Quiroz broke into the NCAA singles scene last year as a sophomore with a visit to the Round of 32. This year, Quiroz leads the Trojans in singles wins with a 29-4 overall record while ranking #43 in the nation as he preps for this year’s NCAA action. Scoring his first spot in NCAA Individual play is junior Wang, whose strong body of work in 2013-14 has lifted him to a #54 national ranking in singles to power him into this year’s NCAA Singles draw. He holds a 20-7 overall singles record.
2014 TROJANS AT A GLANCE
In 2013, the Trojan men came up just short in their efforts to defend a string of four consecutive national championships, as USC was bumped out of the NCAA Tournament in the quarterfinals to finish the year at 26-5 overall and with a No. 5 national ranking. Only one member of that 2013 team has departed Troy, with Emilio Gomez having entered the pro ranks. The remaining Trojan contingent is a powerful crew, with six players already boasting at least one NCAA championship ring. The 2014 Trojans are led by senior All-American Ray Sarmiento, who starts up 2014 in the same place he began 2013 -- ranked No. 10 in the nation in singles. He is joined on the national rankings list by four more Trojans -- No. 32 junior Yannick Hanfmann, No. 67 junior Jonny Wang, No. 70 senior Michael Grant and No. 113 junior Roberto Quiroz. All five of those Trojans have been members of at least one NCAA championship squad. In all, USC boasts three ITA All-Americans on its 2014 roster in Hanfmann, Quiroz and Sarmiento. Also back in action for the USC men is junior Eric Johnson and sophomore Max de Vroome, while USC head coach Peter Smith has welcomed four newcomers to the roster in freshmen Rob Bellamy, Nick Crystal and David Laser, along with spring addition Connor Farren. •