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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Southern California Men Win Second Straight NCAA Title, Defeating Tennessee 4-2

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Athens, GA--

What a difference a year makes. Not in the outcome--the USC Trojans are again NCAA men's tennis champions after a 4-2 victory over Tennessee Tuesday night--but in their state of mind as the NCAA finals again approached.

"Last year was something unbelievable," senior Robert Farah said of the title USC won in College Station, Texas. "This year, I don't know what happened, but I thought we were going to win the whole way. I really liked that feeling. I was out there and I really trusted that we could do this. Last year in my match against (Ohio State's Bryan) Koniecko, I was so nervous. This year I didn't have my best start, but it wasn't because I was nervous. I was completely relaxed out there, just playing another tennis match. And I think that really made a difference in our team and their team."

"I completely agree," said head coach Peter Smith. "As the match went on, I was kind of going, this is the national championship, but it was just like, normal."

The No. 5 Trojans knew they were on the road however, as it was Tennessee, the second seeds, who had the bulk of the fans in the Dan Magill Tennis Complex bleachers. A thousand or so made the trip south to Athens, wearing the distinctive neon orange and waving pompons, hoping to spur the Volunteers to their first national title after two previous appearances in the final.

It started off well for Tennessee, as none of their three doubles teams lost their serves, getting 8-6 wins at No. 1 and No. 3 to take a 1-0 lead.

But the singles were a different story, as Southern Cal claimed five of six first sets, with Farah coming from a break down at No. 1 to take a tiebreaker from JP Smith in their opening set. Tennessee's Tennys Sandgren was the only Volunteer to take a first set, twice coming from a break down against Daniel Nguyen at No. 4 and winning it in a tiebreaker.

Steve Johnson brought Southern Cal even with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Boris Conkic at No. 2, and the match stayed at 1-1 for a long time. Volunteer freshman Rhyne Williams earned a split with Jaak Poldma at No. 3, and he gave Tennessee a brief 2-1 lead with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 win. Farah countered almost immediately, beating Smith 7-6(3), 6-4 to make it 2-2, while Nguyen had earned a split with Sandgren.

With the top three courts finished, the crowd moved to the bleachers behind courts 4,5 and 6, where the match would be decided. Tennessee's Matt Brewer and Matt Kecki were locked in a seesaw battle that eventually ended with Brewer winning a tiebreaker to earn third set. USC's Peter Lucassen was serving for the match against Matteo Fago at No. 6, leading 6-3, 5-2, but he was broken and needed three more games before giving the Trojans a 3-2 lead.

In the other two matches, Brewer was up 3-1 in the third and Nguyen was up 2-0 in the third. Although Smith described Nguyen as a "very nervous kid," there was no sign of that in the second and third sets against Sandgren. Moving beautifully and countering all the pace that Sandgren could throw at him, Nguyen recognized that he had raised his level.

"I just started to play more intense, play smarter," said the sophomore. "I just stayed positive. At these moments you just have to stay positive to achieve, so that's what I did."

He also got a lot of vocal support from his teammates, who had moved into the bleachers above his court, where they were surrounded by Volunteer fans. Farah decided that a soccer chant was in order and began the ole, ole, ole, ole song that is heard in football stadiums across the world, only with Nguyen's nickname, D-win, inserted after the first four oles.

"He's a big soccer fan," Farah said. "I don't know where he got it, he lived in Barcelona, so that's where I think he got it, and I'd been in soccer games in Colombia. I thought it was a great chant for the moment."

Nguyen admitted that he heard the chant and it made him laugh, but it was no distraction, as he proceeded to take a 5-0 lead. Meanwhile, Brewer had a match point to make it 3-3 serving at 5-4 in the third, but a missed volley sent the game back to deuce.

The quality of tennis in the Sandgren - Nguyen match was extremely high, with the score failing to indicate just how close each point was. It was Nguyen who won most of them however, and the tournament's most valuable player broke Sandgren in the final game to set off a raucous celebration that included an Gatorade ( which was actually ice water) dowsing of Smith.

While the Trojans celebrated national title No. 18, six of which were earned since the 1977 format change, Tennessee coach Sam Winterbotham was left seeking answers.

"I think tonight is a great example of me not knowing what to do," Winterbotham said. "The talent we have on this team is fantastic, they came together as a team, they did everything right, and I think they got nervous tonight. I needed to calm those nerves and turn them around, and I don't think I was able to do that."

"I think they (USC) played to win, we wanted to win," Winterbotham said. "Maybe we wanted to win a little too much. But I'm proud of what we've accomplished."

Smith sensed there would be no stopping his team.

"We weren't afraid of the moment," Smith said. "That's the toughest thing to have, to teach, whatever. I don't know if you can teach it. But we weren't going to be afraid out there, that was for sure. And you can see the way the guy finished the match off. Wow."

The NCAA individual tournament begins on Wednesday, with Tennessee's Conkic, Williams and Smith and Southern Cal's Farah and Johnson among the 64 men's competitors. In fact, Williams plays Johnson. See ncaa.org for the complete draws.

#5 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (25-3) def. #2 TENNESSEE (31-2), 4-2
Head Coaches: Peter Smith (Southern California) and Sam Winterbotham (Tennessee)

Singles competition (Order of finish: 2,3,1,6,4*)
1. #9 Robert Farah (USC) def. #1 J.P. Smith (TENNESSEE) 7-6 (7-3), 6-4
2. #3 Steve Johnson (USC) def. #36 Boris Conkic (TENNESSEE) 6-3, 6-2
3. #45 Rhyne Williams (TENNESSEE) def. #89 Jaak Poldma (USC) 1-6, 6-2, 6-1
4. #83 Daniel Nguyen (USC) def. #111 Tennys Sandgren (TENNESSEE) 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, 6-0
5. #115 Matt Brewer (TENNESSEE) vs. Matt Kecki (USC) 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 5-4, unfinished
6. #121 Peter Lucassen (USC) def. Matteo Fago (TENNESSEE) 6-3, 6-4

Doubles competition (1,3)
1. #3 J.P. Smith/Davey Sandgren (TENN) def. #2 Robert Farah/Steve Johnson (SC) 8-6
2. #12 Rhyne Williams/Boris Conkic (TENN) vs. JT Sundling/Daniel Nguyen (SC) 7-4, unfinished
3. Matteo Fago/Edward Jones (TENN) def. Jaak Poldma/Jason McNaughton (SC) 8-6


Go SC said...

Great coverage! I'm sure it's challenging to write these w/ all the overlap, non-stop tennis. Congrats to USC on NCAA title No. 18!!!!

Athens said...

Congrats to the Trojans & Farah/Nguyen in particular. Those two were the keys against both UVA and Tennessee. They came up with the goods. All credit to them.

when do they play said...

Colette, is there anywhere that lists the schedule of play for singles today. I see the draws but can't seem to find the "order of play" Thanks

Georgia on our minds said...

Colette, thanks for your outstanding coverage!

"No guts,no glory"
Congrats Trojans!!
We are so proud of you guys !!!

Colette Lewis said...

Times are on the brackets. Click here

5.0 Player said...

Does anyone have an explanation for what happened in the Nguyen-Sangren match? It was great tennis but it appeared to me that Nguyen totally treed. He seemed so fast on his feet that it looked like he had jets in his shoes. Keep in mind that Sangren and Nguyen are about the same age and Nguyen never accomplished anything close to Sangren in singles in his entire junior career. Sangren was arguably the primier 1991 player in the nation who almost went pro; while Nguyen only did some impressive things in doubles. So, to lose the last 2 sets 1 & 0, in such an important match, is really shocking and puzzling.

Was there something wrong with Sangren or was it just one of those things where a guy zones and there's not much you can do about it?

5.0 Player said...

The TV commentating on ESPNU was disgraceful. First of all, neither commentator seemed to know which player was who and so they spent most of the first half talking in generalities such as historical teams from decades ago and would usually mention the player's team, not his name. Second, one of the commentators (not Malavai Washington but the other one) knew nothing about tennis and kept saying thins like "Wow! Tennessee is up 5 to 4 in that match" even when the match was on serve and he didn't seem to understand the importance of a break of serve.

Another stupid comment was that they kept talking about the fact that JP Smith had a chance to win the Triple Crown but kept totally dissing his opponent, Farah, who also had as good a chance to win the triple crown by never mentioning Farah as even a contender for it. Then Farah beat Smith right before their eyes in straight sets which meant that not only did they neglect to mention Farah's chances but an hour and a half later Farah is the ONLY ONE of the two who has a chance and Smith's opportunity is gone. They should have been embarrassed by their insensitivity and stupidity.

Go Trojans said...

5.0 player, last year in the NCAA finals D win rolled over Chase Buchanan 0&2. So taking it to a more "heralded recruit" is nothing new to Nguyen. In fact, Nguyen only lost one dual match (playing mostly 4 as well as some 3 & 5) all year! And that match finished in a 10 point TB for the 3d set. He's been a rock all season!

Not to mention the NCAA MVP! That's not a fluke.

In addition,
Stevie Johnson also didn't have as good a junior career as some others his year, yet he's the #2 seed in Athens (as a So.)

As a 5.0, you should be full aware that college affects everyone differently. Some folks thrive and improve, while others don't always keep the same motivation.

Back 2 Back said...

5.0 Player,

The only part of the Nguyen-Sandgren match that was a fluke was the first set, where Nguyen was up 5-2 and Tennys treed and came back to win the set. Daniel easily could have cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory just as he did against Chase Buchannan in the championship last year, someone who also acoomplished a lot more in the juniors, but who cares this is college. Nguyen lost one dual match all season and has been SC's most solid player all year. Going into the match I had USC at locks for Johnson and Nguyen and Tennessee a lock for Williams at 3. So no, it was not someone just treeing to a victory. He was the favorite and proved so.

jo said...

steve johnson also could do it

work-hard-tennis said...

To 5.0 Player.

I was wondering the same thing myself. A couple of years ago, I met Sandgren's mom and him at the Jr. US Open. He was on fire, as you said. Very nice people. (Found out that Tennys is a Swedish name--they didn't name him after the game of tennis; ironic that Tennys plays tennis and goes to Tennessee, but oh well, ha ha!)

I hadn't seen him play since that tournament until last night. He looked petered out, relatively. I felt bad for him.

Austin said...

Sandgren pulled a Chase Buchannon in the finals, save for that good first set.

Austin said...

VERY Early 2011 Favorites for Palo Alto:

1) Virginia
2) Southern Cal
3) Tennessee
4) Florida
5) Stanford
6) Texas A&M
7) Louisville
8) Kentucky
9) Duke
10) Ohio State
11) Texas Tech
12) UCLA
13) Texas
14) Georgia
15) Oklahoma
16) Baylor

*UVA, Tenn & USC are all head and shoulders above the rest in my opinion

fan of college said...

Work-tennis-hard, There's a lot more pressure playing for others as part of team in the NCAA final with everything riding on your match, than playing just for yourself as an underdog in a Jr. Slam where you can just swing freely.

I think you guys are underestimating the level that Nguyen is playing.

Eric Amend said...

Austin, Austin, Austin.....

Sandgren didn't pull a Chase Buchannon, they both got Dwin(ed)!!!!!!!

Faulkner said...

To Austin..

Should probably put Ole Miss in the top 5 there. Much less the top 16. They are going to have a nasty team next year.

Austin said...


Oops, thank you for catching that, I didnt do it on purpose. They were supposed to be ranked 11th.


hahaha, my bad