©Colette Lewis 2009--
The University of Southern California, seeded eighth, took this season's rubber match with Stanford, defeating the ninth-seeded Cardinal 4-2 Thursday afternoon.
Robert Farah got up an early break in the third set at No. 1 singles, and the junior from Columbia served it out for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Alex Clayton to put the Trojans in the quarterfinals.
Compared to the teams' previous two meetings, today's result wasn't quite as close, as in those two matches it was 7-6 and 7-5 in the third set of the final match that decided it. But after USC won the doubles point in a 9-8(4) tiebreaker at No. 1 with Farah and Steve Johnson beating Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher, each team won three first sets, and except at No. 3, where USC's Jaak Poldma took out Thacher 7-5, 7-6, every player who lost the first set won the second.
"You can see how close we are," said USC head coach Peter Smith. "There's not much that separates us. A tiebreaker in the third at 2, a tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles...it just was so close. But I just loved how we competed the whole time. I wasn't nervous at all because...we were fighting, doing all the right things."
When Farah was serving for the match at 5-4, Clayton was overruled twice: at 15-15 and 30-15, and on the first match point, Farah didn't have to play a ball after his second serve, with Clayton missing the return.
Smith was pleased that it came down to Farah for the win.
"It's the end of his junior year, he's won an NCAA individual (doubles) championship and he's never clinched a match for us," Smith said. "I was really happy...he's been such a great leader for us and for him to come through like that, it was really fun to see. It's not like he's been in that position a lot, it's just kind of bad luck really, but it's the first time he's clinched a huge match like that for us."
Southern California now will meet Virginia in the quarterfinals. The top-seeded Cavaliers beat No. 16 Florida State for the third time this year, this time by a 4-2 score, but head coach Brian Boland wasn't expecting anything but the tough battle he got.
"It's hard to beat a team that good three times in a year, and we're certainly proud of that," Boland said. "I don't see 1 against 16 at all. There's so much parity, and I have so much respect for all the teams in the field. We knew it was going to be a challenge."
Michael Shabaz attributed much of the challenge in his clinching match at No. 3 singles to the swirling winds, but getting up early in the third set gave him confidence against Maciek Sykut, and he eased to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win.
"At 1-1, (in the third) I broke him--I had the wind at that time--and I knew if I got up early, I could roll with it," said Shabaz, who had also dropped the first set to Sykut in the Cavaliers ACC tournament win. "I tried to stay steady towards the third, use my legs a little bit to make him work, and I guess I just made enough balls and put enough pressure on him to win the set."
At the time, Shabaz's teammate Lee Singer was at 3-3 in the third with a cramping Chris Cloer at No. 6, so Shabaz's win finally allowed Ohio State and Boise State on the courts, nearly two hours after their scheduled starting time.
Thursday, May 14, 2009