©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, Texas
There's something about the George Mitchell Tennis Center at Texas A & M University that agrees with the University of Southern California men's tennis team. The site of their last title, in 2002, the eighth-seeded Trojans claimed their fifth championship Tuesday afternoon, defeating No. 3 Ohio State 4-1.
"Prakash Amritraj facebooked me this morning and said, 'let's do it, let's do it,'" USC coach Peter Smith said of the player who had clinched the Trojans' title in 2002, coach Dick Leach's last year. "The last time USC won it, I was being offered the job...to be back here seven years later on the court, it's surreal."
The Trojans captured the doubles point at No. 3 when Matt Kecki and Jaak Poldma defeated Steven Moneke and Chase Buchanan, breaking Moneke at 7-8. Ohio State had taken the No. 2 doubles position with Bryan Koniecko and Shuhei Uzawa downing Abdullah Magdas and Daniel Nguyen 8-4, while Robert Farah and Steve Johnson had claimed the No. 1 singles over Buckeyes Justin Kronauge and Matt Allare 8-3.
Allare, who had turned his ankle in the last game of his match against UCLA in Monday's semifinal, wasn't obviously hobbled, but Magdas led all the way in their match at No. 4, recording a 6-2, 6-3 victory and giving USC a 2-0 lead. Daniel Nguyen of USC easily won the battle of the freshmen at No. 6, taking out Chase Buchanan 6-0, 6-2 to make it 3-0 USC, but Ohio State had won first sets at No. 1, No. 3 and No. 5 to give the Buckeye faithful some hope. Trojan Steve Johnson had taken the first set from Steven Moneke in a tiebreaker at No. 2, and was up a break on a couple of occasions in the second set, but couldn't hold that advantage.
Meanwhile, Robert Farah had recovered from the loss of the first set to Bryan Koniecko of Ohio State, taking the second set quickly 6-1. Justin Kronauge, who had clinched in the last match on in the Buckeyes semifinal win over UCLA, showed no effects from Monday's grueling contest, and he finished off Jaak Poldma at No. 3 7-6(1), 6-4.
Around that same time, Farah had broken Koniecko at 3-3 in the third set, and suddenly that match became the focus.
Farah held serving a 4-3, producing inspired tennis, while Koniecko hung with him on every point, even though he won none of them. There were no errors, just great shot after great shot, and the same held true for Koniecko's next service game, which he won to make it 5-4.
"I went and sat down at 5-4 and I just tried to keep my cool, take as much time as I could, close my eyes and believe I could do it," said Farah, a junior from Columbia. "To watch all these great players in the ATP winning great matches, how they take their time, how they control those moments, which I think is the hardest moment in a tennis match--closing the match. That's what I did, and I did it well. I did it against Texas, I did it against Stanford, and I think I'm getting better at that moment."
Farah, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, made it easy on his coach, going up 40-0 with aggressive yet error-free play, and finishing with a service winner. Moneke had just taken the second set from Johnson and Ohio State's Balazs Novak had a one-set lead over Matt Kecki at No. 5, but there would be no repeat of Monday's comeback from 3-1 down against UCLA.
"It was a tough day for us. I feel bad for them," said Ohio State coach Ty Tucker, referring to seniors Moneke and Koniecko. "We wouldn't be anywhere without them; their play on the court has been absolutely unbelievable, above and beyond. They put it all out there on the line, and it's got to be disappointing for Bryan to have the season end on his court."
Koniecko regretted a couple of forehands he missed in the long game at 3-3, but gave credit to Farah.
"He served well the last three games and there was not much I could do. Hats off to him, but it was a tough match."
With three freshmen in the lineup, even coach Smith seemed surprised at how everything had fallen into place in the final month of the season.
"I never get anything right the first time," Smith said with disbelief. "Trust me. I'm in the finals for the first time with my team and we win? My life doesn't work like that."
But as he left the media center, coach Smith was asking for advice on how to text message everyone in his address book that USC had won its fifth national championship since the dual match format was introduced in 1977.
For complete scores see the aggieathletics website.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009