May 24, 2010

Courtesy of USC Athletics

ATHENS, GA. - The No. 5-seeded USC men's tennis team outlasted top-seeded Virginia to stake the Trojans' claim on a return trip to the NCAA title match for a shot at claiming back-to-back national championships. Up against the rolling Cavaliers in today's NCAA Semifinals at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., the Trojans gutted out a tight match to pin up a 4-2 win over Virginia for the right to advance in NCAA action, improving USC to 24-3 overall on the year. Tomorrow (May 24) at 6 p.m. ET, USC will face No. 2 seed Tennessee in the NCAA Championship match in Athens.

USC's 4-2 semifinal win today snapped a 36-match winning streak held by the Cavaliers. It wasn't an easy feat, however, as singles action tightened up significantly with Virginia pulling the score to 3-2 USC before Daniel Nguyen pulled out the clincher with his 7-6 (9), 6-4 win at the No. 4 position. That win marked Nguyen's fourth singles win of the NCAA Championships and the second time the sophomore has clinched an NCAA match for the Trojans this season.

But first, doubles action played out with teams on serve down the line until USC's Daniel Nguyen and JT Sundling managed a break to go up 3-2 on court two. Virginia's #41 Barrick/Singh answered right back with a break of their own, only to have the Trojans get up again with a break and hold to take a key 5-3 lead. Meanwhile, doing battle at No. 3 was USC's Jason McNaughton and Jaak Poldma, teamed up for the day and staying even with Virginia's Jenkins/Singer. At the No. 1 slot, things looked to be locked on serve for the duration until USC's #2 duo of Robert Farah and Steve Johnson snagged a clutch break for a late 7-5 advantage that carried the Trojans quickly to an 8-5 win with Farah serving it out for the victory over Virginia's #14 Courtney/Shabaz. A moment later, Sundling followed suit with some slick work from Nguyen to capture that first point for USC with their 8-6 win to make it 1-0 Trojans on the board. Farah/Johnson now hold a 17-match winning streak together.

Momentum would sway all directions during singles play. By and large, the higher ranked player would prevail down the stretch, but that didn't keep the match from settling out any time soon, thanks in part to three marathon tiebreakers sprinkled around the courts. At the No. 1 position, USC's #9 Robert Farah had a lopsided win in the first set, only to have #11 Michael Shabaz answer back with a hard-fought second set to bring up a tiebreaker. Farah had to fight off set point twice before taking his first advantage in the tiebreaker, up 8-7. Shabaz would fight back next and get up again, 9-8 to heap the pressure back on Farah. The USC senior rallied, and won the next three points to wrap up his match and USC's first singles point with a 6-1, 7-6 (9) victory that made it 2-0 Trojans. The win also marked Farah's 15th consecutive singles win.

While #121 Peter Lucassen looked to be on a path to taking the Trojans ahead 3-0 from the No. 6 position, it was the No. 5 match next to him that grabbed the attention of the crowd first. There, Matt Kecki's battle with Virginia's #106 Houston Barrick had the match going to a second-set tiebreaker with Barrick already having claimed the first set. Kecki hung tough and fought off match point as he trailed 8-7, but Barrick got back in gear and closed it out to take the match 6-2, 7-6 (8) and make it 2-1 USC. Lucassen would put the finishing touches on his match after an extremely long final game to boost USC ahead 3-1 soon after with his 6-2, 6-3 win over Julen Uriguen on court six, leaving action still blazing on three courts with the decider still up for grabs.

While USC's #3 Steve Johnson was forcing a deciding third set in his battle at No. 2 against Virginia's tough #14 Sanam Singh, his Trojan teammates Jaak Poldma and Daniel Nguyen were also playing out tight matches. #89 Poldma's fight with Virginia's #57 Jarmere Jenkins wrapped up with Jenkins managing one last break to claim a 6-3, 7-5 win over Poldma to push the score to 3-2 USC. On court four, #83 Nguyen and #46 Drew Courtney had expended a ton of energy in an early marathon tiebreaker, where Nguyen shrugged off a couple set points and finally clinched his own to take the first set with an 11-9 tiebreak score for a crucial edge in his No. 4 singles match. With Johnson still embroiled in a tough match at No. 2, Nguyen came through in the second set, pulling out of a 4-4 lock-up to dish out a break to win his match 7-6 (9), 6-4 and propel his Trojans to the NCAA title match with a 4-2 semifinal victory over top-seeded Virginia.

Tomorrow, USC goes on the hunt for the Trojans' first back-to-back NCAA titles since 1993-94. USC's 17th overall national championship came last season when the Trojans beat Ohio State 4-1 in the 2009 NCAA final in College Station, Texas.

USC is 3-0 all-time against Tennessee, last facing the Vols in the 2002 NCAA Semifinals, where the Trojans claimed a 4-3 win over Tennessee on the way to winning that year's national championship.

On the whole, Wednesday's title match will be the third NCAA final for a USC team in the past 10 dayss. The USC women's water polo team won the 2010 national championship on May 16 in San Diego, Calif., and USC women's golf finished second at the NCAA championships on May 21 in Wilmington, N.C.

NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
Semifinals
[5] USC 4, [1] Virginia 2
May 24, 2010 - Athens, Ga.

DOUBLES
(1) #2 Farah/Johnson (USC) def. #14 Courtney/Shabaz (UVA) - 8-5
(2) Nguyen/Sundling (USC) def. #41 Barrick/Singh (UVA) - 8-6*
(3) McNaughton/Poldma (USC) vs. Jenkins/Singer (UVA) - 5-5 susp.
Order of finish: 1, 2

SINGLES
(1) #9 Robert Farah (USC) def. #11 Michael Shabaz (UVA) - 6-1, 7-6 (9)
(2) #3 Steve Johnson (USC) vs. #14 Sanam Singh (UVA) - 4-6, 6-4, 1-2 susp.
(3) #57 Jarmere Jenkins (UVA) def. #89 Jaak Poldma (USC) - 6-3, 7-5
(4) #83 Daniel Nguyen (USC) def. #46 Drew Courtney (UVA) - 7-6 (9), 6-4*
(5) #106 Houston Barrick (UVA) def. Matt Kecki (USC) - 6-2, 7-6 (8)
(6) #121 Peter Lucassen (USC) def. Julen Uriguen (UVA) - 6-2, 6-3
Order of finish: 1, 5, 6, 3, 4