ATHENS, Ga. — Top-seeded USC got the job done inside and out on Monday night, 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 against 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 victory against the Bruins.
The doubles point tightened up significantly after the Bruins managed an 8-4 win on court three. At the No. 1 spot, USC’s senior-freshman combo of Steve Johnson and Roberto Quiroz were able to ward off a push by UCLA’s 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 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 of singles actions, forcing both semifinal matches to move indoors to be played out on two courts apiece. Johnson and 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 Clay Thompson 4-1 and Sarmiento was up 4-0 on 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, Gomez was upended in his No. 4 singles match with Marcus Giron as the Bruins managed to tally a point in the match and make it 3-1. 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.