The USTA brought out its heavy-hitting coaching lineup and most of the members of the 2008 ITF World Junior Davis Cup champion team, but it wasn't quite enough against one of the top college teams in the country yesterday. Although undermanned, the sixth-ranked Trojans still came away with a 4-3 win, winning the doubles point handily and earning wins at No. 4, 2 and 3 singles before the juniors came back to take the final three singles matches.
Watching scores change on the USC website last night, I couldn't see who was on the court coaching, but I later heard from USTA National Coach David Roditi that in addition to himself, the USTA had Jose Higueras, David Nainkin, Hugo Armando, Marc Lucero and Sam Querrey giving advice to the juniors.
"We had a pretty good coaching staff," Roditi said. "Sam Querrey came and coached JT against Magdas."
JT is of course JT Sundling, who has committed to USC for the fall, and who, like Querrey, is from Thousand Oaks, California. Playing No. 2 singles against Trojan senior Abdullah Magdas, Sundling had an early lead, but lost 7-5, 6-3.
With the way the doubles point went, Roditi was happy just to be in the singles matches, let alone win three of them, with USC winning the doubles 8-0 at No. 1 and No. 2 and 8-4 at No. 3.
"I'll tell you what my pep talk was after the doubles," Roditi said. "I said, guys, I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is we're down 1-0. The good news is, it's not a total of games. These guys won 24-4, and all they got was one point. There's still six points out there."
And as it turned out, those six points were divided, as were first sets.
At No. 1, Denis Kudla, who led the U.S. team to the Junior Davis Cup title last September, took a 7-5 first set from Steve Johnson of USC, who was moved into the top spot due to the back injuries of Robert Farah and Jaak Poldma. At No. 6, Clay Thompson won a tiebreaker against USC's Dan Gliner, and at No. 5, Nathan Pasha battled past Trojan Daniel Nguyen 6-4.
In addition to Magdas at No. 2, USC had taken the first set at No. 3, with Jason McNaughton getting past Kalamazoo 16s champion Jordan Cox 6-3, and Matt Kecki edging Raymond Sarmiento 7-5. Cox and Sarmiento were members of the USTA's Junior Davis Cup team, with Cox playing in North American qualifying and Sarmiento in the finals in Mexico, but another prominent JDC member, Evan King, just arrived in California on Tuesday from the clay court swing in Brazil, and Roditi didn't feel he was physically prepared to take on the California hard courts with no more than hours to adjust to a new surface and time zone.
The singles matches all went as the first sets did. Kecki got USC's second point, beating Sarmiento 7-5, 6-1, Magdas downed Sundling 7-5, 6-3 and McNaughton completed his 6-3, 6-3 win over Cox to clinch it for the Trojans. Nathan Pasha got the USTA boys on the board with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Nguyen, with Thompson winning their second point by scoring a 7-6(3), 7-6(5) victory over Gliner. Johnson had come back to take the second set from Kudla 6-3, and since the dual match was decided before they had started the third set, the two played a match tiebreaker, which Kudla won 11-9.
Roditi acknowledged that the final score was a bit deceptive.
"It would have been maybe a little scary if they had had their full lineup, but they were all out there, Farah played doubles, and they were all cheering, and it was fun. It was a great experience."
Southern Cal head coach Peter Smith knew that the timing of the event wasn't ideal for his team, smack as they are in the middle of the Pac-10 season, but he wasn't about to shrink from the challenge.
"It was classic David Roditi," Smith said. "After the team beat Miami, I texted him that that wasn't a fair matchup, and he said then why don't we play you? I said okay, let's go. March 31st, that's a terrible day, but hey, we've got to uphold the college."
"I think it was a great experience for the USTA juniors, especially to get a glimpse of what top college doubles is like," Smith added. "When you're a junior and you're playing doubles, it's too much about shot-making, and it has to be more about disciplined pattern play."
After the match, many of the several dozen students at the after-school program at the USTA's Carson Training Center, who had served as ballrunners, got to play a little too.
"Sam Querrey stayed for about an hour or an hour and a half after the match playing games with all the ballkids," said Smith, who mentioned that Kaes Van't Hof and Tracy Austin were also there. "We played 'Smash Them in the Face,' we played 'Live Ball', we did all these drills, and Sam enjoyed it as much as any kid out there. It was such a great moment for tennis, I couldn't even believe it."
For more on the match, see the USC Trojans' website.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009