ATHENS, Ga. -- Southern California made absolutely certain of a return trip to the NCAA championship match in a heated semifinal tangle with No. 4 seed Virginia. Up against the Cavaliers for the fifth time in six seasons in the NCAA tournament, the Trojans put an extra flourish on another win against the hard-hitting UVa squad on Monday.
While senior Michael Grant was gutting out a marathon match point on court No. 6, his junior teammate Yannick Hanfmann was plodding closer and closer to an upset win on court No. 1. Hanfmann would deal out the felling blow just a breath before Grant, winning on his serve for the clincher only a moment before Grant made it a 5-1 Trojan victory with his gutsy win. The win puts USC in the NCAA championship match also for the fifth time in six seasons, up against No. 2 seed Oklahoma at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday at Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex.USC already owns an record 20 NCAA championships, but a 21st would clock in as the university’s 100th NCAA team title. Tuesday’s tile match will mark the first meeting between USC and Oklahoma in men’s tennis. The Trojans will take a 31-3 overall record into the match. During USC’s run of four consecutive NCAA championships (2009-12), two of those titles came in Athens (2010, 12).
In the semifinal, the doubles point was about as tight as it gets. Up on all three courts by just a hair, the Trojans were steadfast in their efforts, battling to tiebreakers on the No. 1 and No. 3 courts while the No. 2 Trojan pair registered a comparatively smooth win for a lift. USC’s Connor Farren and Roberto Quiroz peeled out to a 6-2 lead on UVa.’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski/Mac Styslinger at the No. 2 spot before the Cavalier pair reeled them back in, closing to 6-5. Farren and Quiroz dug in their heels from there, though, with Farren holding and the duo delivering a break to close out an 8-5 win. The point was still entirely up for grabs, with tiebreakers raging on the other two courts. On court No. 1, USC’s Yannick Hanfmann and Ray Sarmiento saw UVa’s Alex Domijan/Justin Shane fight out of a 7-5 hole to force a breaker there. USC was facing match point there, but their trusty teammates on court No. 3 sealed the deal first. Max de Vroome and Eric Johnson shrugged off a 4-5 deficit in their tiebreaker against UVA’s Mitchell Frank/Ryan Shane, ripping off the last three points to claim the opening point for USC on their 8-7 (5) finish.
Singles action unfurled as anybody’s guess. USC and Virginia split on the first sets, but it was Virginia that nabbed the first singles win of the day. USC’s Quiroz had fought off multiple match points in his duel with Ryan Shane on court No. 3, but eventually wound up with a streak-snapping loss. Quiroz’ 20-match win streak hit a snag when Virginia’s Shane registered a 6-1, 6-4 victory that evened the match at 1-1.
The Trojans kept coming, however, On court No. 5, USC’s Johnson stuck to his guns and pulled USC back into the lead, up 2-1 on Johnson’s 6-4, 7-5 finish of Virginia’s Justin Shane. Still, the outcome of the match was far from clear. Three matches extended into third sets. Sarmiento’s match against Frank on court No. 2 was threatening to go to a third as well. But Sarmiento had other plans. Down 3-5, Sarmiento fought off set point to stay alive in the set. He’d go on and chisel in USC’s third point of the match, fending off Frank for a 6-1, 6-4 victory that made it 3-1, but with lots of tennis still raging on.
On court No. 4, de Vroome had overcome a wild first-set tiebreaker loss to Kwiatkowski by snagging a decisive breaker in the next set to bring up a third. But that wasn’t the only tiebreak heroics going on in the singles scene. On court No. 1, Hanfmann was a warrior in a marathon second-set tiebreaker against the heavy-hitting Domijan. Hanfmann missed on his first set point opportunity, and would face two match points in Domijan’s favor before taking control. He’d win the set with a heart-stopping 12-10 breaker. That gave him some confidence going into the third set where he opened with a break of Domijan for an advantage. While he stayed resolute in his grinding matchup, Grant was showing similar stubbornness over on court No. 6. Also in a third set, Grant was in an unpredictable third set, where he and J.C. Aragone were prone to breaking each other’s serve. Grant got to match point and was soon engaged in a long and tense rally with Aragone. While he and Aragone locked horns, Hanfmann was making moves on court No. 1. Serving for the match, Hanfmann won two points while Grant and Aragon were still going strong in their match point. With the win in reach, Hanfmann let loose a serve that clipped the net and dropped in, punching up the clinching victory for the Trojans with his 4-6, 7-6 (10), 6-4 decision against Domijan. Just a moment later, Grant finished off his rally and notched a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win versus Aragone to finish out the match as a 5-1 Trojan victory. On court No. 4, de Vroome’s match with Kwiatkowski was suspended, as the Trojans then celebrated the win and the ticket to the title match.