May 26, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. - Daniel Nguyen didn't want to part with the national championship trophy, coddling it like a baby on his way to do post-match interviews.

"I think I'm going to sleep with it tonight," he joked. "No, but it's definitely great to hold this trophy."

It should be.

Nguyen did his part, clinching Southern California's second consecutive Division I men's tennis national title at No. 4 singles as the Trojans defeated Tennessee, 4-2, on Tuesday night at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Nguyen defeated Tennessee's Tennys Sandgren 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-0 to help fifth-seeded USC (26-3) rally from a doubles loss for its sixth NCAA title.

The Trojans defeated Ohio State 4-1 last year in College Station, Texas, adding to their titles from 1991, '93, '94 and '02.

"When you win like this, it's a testament to great players," USC coach Peter Smith said. "These guys were great out there. They showed their versatility. They showed their complete games, and most importantly, they showed their heart and guts to come from behind and win it."

Tennessee (31-2) has never won an NCAA title, also losing in the final in 1990 and 2001, but the Volunteers entered Tuesday night as the second seed and riding a 21-match winning streak. They struck quickly, winning the doubles, but then fell behind in singles and couldn't catch the Trojans.

"As a team, we're very united and we care a lot for each other," Tennessee's Rhyne Williams said. "We fought hard as a team and came up a little bit short. I feel like we can bounce back and learn from this, and maybe in this situation next year, we'll have a little more experience and take the title next year."

Playing at No. 4, Nguyen has been one of the Trojans' toughest competitors this year, going 34-6 before the Round of 16. He promptly won three straight matches in two sets before going three against Sandgren in the final.

Nguyen said he lost focus in the first set and then shut down Sandgren, who had clinched Tennessee's semifinal victory over Georgia on Monday night.

"I think Daniel Nguyen has probably been their strongest point all year," Tennessee coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We knew that. He could play No. 1 on most teams. We also felt great about having Tennys in that position, and he didn't let us down. When I came down (to watch), I said, 'This is not No. 4.' You could have easily seen both of them on that top court."

Nguyen said: "I just told myself, win or lose, I'm going to play 100 percent. I ended up getting the win. I'm still speechless. I'm still in a dream."

Smith was asked to compare the titles, but couldn't. Not just yet.

He even went into the match playing with the idea that the Trojans might lose and thinking about how the Trojans have finished every year with him as their coach.

"This whole experience is so surreal," Smith said. "Last year it was such an amazing experience, (and) it's like, 'OK, you get to do it again.' I mean, come on. Coaches rationalize. I said, 'Well, I won it. I lost in the semis. I lost in the quarters. I lost in the round of 16. I lost in the second round. I haven't lost in the finals. I guess that's what's next. That's what I was thinking before the match."

And, at first, it looked that way.

At least until Steve Johnson defeated Tennessee's Boris Conkic 6-3, 6-2 at No. 2 singles and Robert Farah knocked off top-seeded J.P Smith 7-6 (3), 6-4 at No. 1.

Peter Lucassen's 6-3, 6-4 victory over Matteo Fago at No. 6 set up Nguyen.

"Last year was something unbelievable," Farah said. "This year, I don't know what happened. I felt like we were going to win the whole way. Winning was something that was not out of my mind. Even losing that first point, I said, 'We can do this.'"