2009 USC Men's Tennis Outlook
Feb. 11, 2009
The Trojans finished the 2008 season holding an NCAA doubles trophy above their heads. This year, the USC men's tennis team aims to upgrade that lofted hardware to an NCAA team trophy. When Kaes Van't Hof and Robert Farah won the 2008 NCAA Doubles Championship, USC padded its lead over the rest of the nation with the Trojans' 21st NCAA doubles title.
For this 2009 season, USC returns half of that winning doubles duo in now-junior Robert Farah. Van't Hof has graduated, but USC head coach Peter Smith made sure to haul in plenty of backup with a strong class of fresh talent to go along with his returning power.
'The good news is it's definitely my strongest recruiting class since I've been at USC,' Smith said of newcomers Steve Johnson, Matt Kecki, Andrew Kells and Daniel Nguyen. 'It is the most depth I've had since I've been at SC.'
Truth be told, it may take four players to fill the void left by last year's graduating senior Kaes Van't Hof, who captained the Trojans and captured the Pac-10 Singles and Doubles championships for himself in 2008. He and teammate Robert Farah went on to win the NCAA Doubles title as well. His graduation left big shoes to fill, but Smith feels his four powerful freshmen can combine forces well with the solid set of Trojan returners to pick up any slack.
'On paper we didn't lose too much - just one senior - but that senior was pretty good,' Smith said. 'Kaes won over 90 percent of his Pac-10 matches, and off the court he had such great leadership and so many intangibles it was a dramatic loss. But everyone's stepped up. 'This team is very close, there are no cliques, I think they are ready to do it together.'
Once again, USC has just one senior on its roster - team captain Abdullah Magdas - along with two strong juniors in Robert Farah and Jason McNaughton and sophomore standout Jaak Poldma. They return to helm a Trojan squad that posted a 22-5 overall record and reached the NCAA Quarterfinals in 2008. This year, USC opens the spring as the nation's No. 6 ranked team, with four singles players tabbed in the top-100.
'Mag is really showing huge leadership skills this year. He has made big improvements and understands what it takes to play at this level. He finished really strong last season and it's carrying over,' Smith said of Magdas, who won all four of his NCAA matches last year in Tulsa and is ranked No. 64 entering the spring.
'Jason is one of the hardest-working kids I've ever coached. He's a real staple of our team. And Jaak, I think he's the biggest key to our team. If he can play like he played last year we're going to be a very good team,' Smith said of his returning talent, adding that freshman Matt Kecki is another key to a powerful postseason run for the Trojans. 'Kecki can be as good as he wants to be. He can be a force at any position he plays. He needs to be healthy and ready to play.'
Poldma, Magdas and McNaughton lined up just behind USC's 1-2 punch of Farah and Van't Hof last year, and once again Farah is tabbed as the headliner on USC's ladder and sits at No. 7 in the national singles rankings for the spring. A 2008 All-American, Farah reached the NCAA Singles Round of 16 and led the Trojans in wins with a 35-15 singles mark in his sophomore season.
'Robert has really established himself as one of the better players to play at USC,' Smith said of Farah. 'Hopefully he can really cement his career with a team NCAA title.'
Most likely, Farah again will have some company during this year's postseason play thanks to that extra burst of incoming strength on the Trojan roster. He's already teamed up with Steve Johnson in fall doubles play with great success, as the pair has forced their way to a No. 2 national ranking.
'We look to Robert to lead us at No. 1 as one of our most experienced players,' Smith said. 'If his and other player's leaderships skills can come through, I see great things for the team. We have these four incredible recruits coming in. They're all starting. They all add real talent and are going to be impact players.'
Steve Johnson, Matt Kecki, Andrew Kells and Daniel Nguyen all boast a laundry list of junior-level accolades along with championships and strong rankings. Ben Lankenau also joins the crew as a freshman this year, rounding out that formidable group of newcomers to Troy that is causing welcome headaches for Smith when it comes to inking in his dual match lineup.
'Johnson and Nguyen were easily doubles starters,' Smith said. 'They are already are two of the best doubles players on the team. For Steve and Daniel to come in and play at 1 and 2 doubles, that's never happened in my career. It's such a rarity. They're as coachable as you get.'
Johnson and Kecki both picked up spring singles rankings at No. 58 and No. 54, respectively. USC's young doubles guns also got spring rankings nods, as Kells and Nguyen clock in at No. 46 behind second-ranked Farah/Johnson.