No. 3 USC Men Take Aim At Arizona, Pac-10 Crown

April 6, 2010

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The No. 3 USC men moved up a notch in the national rankings in time for a trip to Arizona for another step in Pac-10 play. The Trojans (18-2, 4-0 Pac-10) pay a visit to the No. 35 Wildcats' home courts on Friday (April 9) at 1:30 p.m. in Tucson, Ariz. A USC win over Arizona (11-8, 1-3) on Friday could well clinch at least a share of the Pac-10 title for the Trojans, as they currently stand as the only undefeated team in Pac-10 play with just two matches left.

The latest Campbell/ITA national team rankings (released April 6) have defending NCAA champ USC ranked No. 3 in the nation after the Trojans' first loss slipped them out of the No. 1 spot at which they opened the year. The latest individual rankings were released March 30. There, Steve Johnson remains on top as the nation's leader, ranked #1 again in singles. Senior Robert Farah is next in line at #15, with four other Trojans settled in the rankings: #73 Jaak Poldma, #83 Daniel Nguyen, #104 Peter Lucassen and #123 JT Sundling. In doubles, three Trojan teams are in the rankings: #8 Farah/Johnson, #48 Johnson/Nguyen and #52 McNaughton/Nguyen.

USC pulled out two more key Pac-10 wins last week, holding off #7 Stanford for a 5-2 win that may end up as the linchpin in a Pac-10 title for the Trojans. The Cardinal went on to hand UCLA its first Pac-10 loss the following day, while USC was topping Cal 6-1 at Marks Stadium. The Stanford match was ultimately clinched by Daniel Nguyen's three-set win at No. 4 just before Robert Farah upset #5 Bradley Klahn at No. 1. Against Cal, USC dropped just one match in a 10-point tiebreak well after JT Sundling's win at No. 6 had decided the match in USC's favor.

Arizona is ranked No. 35 in the nation and is 11-8 overall and 1-3 in Pac-10 play after falling to Washington 6-1 and beating Oregon 5-2 last week. Arizona has #90 Andres Arango and #115 Andres Carrasco ranked in singles. USC is 92-2 all-time against the Wildcats, winning the past five matches including a 7-0 sweep last season. Arizona's last win was a 4-3 decision in 2006.

USC recorded its first back-to-back wins against crosstown rival UCLA since 1991 with the Trojans' 6-1 win over the Bruins on March 3 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. USC had claimed a 4-0 win over UCLA earlier this year at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, and this second look at UCLA was a similarly decisive victory for the Trojans. USC captured the doubles point and then worked ahead with the clincher coming from Matt Kecki to make it a 4-1 USC lead from his No. 6 singles slot. USC's third match of the year vs. UCLA is coming fast, with the Trojans hosting this one at 3 p.m. at Marks Stadium on April 17.

It's been a team effort for the Trojans in working their way to within reach of the 2010 Pac-10 Championship. The USC men have claimed five Pac-10 Player of the Week awards so far this season, giving the Trojans the lead for all-time selections with a grand total of 15. This year, four different Trojans have won the weekly honor -- two for Daniel Nguyen and one apiece for Jaak Poldma, Steve Johnson and Jason McNaughton. This season's selections have been the first of each Trojans' career. McNaughton's selection is the latest to go on the USC tally after the senior came through with a powerful straight-set win over #7 Stanford's Greg Hirshman -- handing the Cardinal player his first loss of the season at the No. 6 singles position - to take USC ahead 3-1 as the remaining three matches all went into tense three-setters last week. His win also helped secure him a spot in the lineup for the following day against #17 California. There, McNaughton was slotted at No. 5, and the senior captured another win by handing a rare dual-match loss to Riki McLachlan to round out USC's 6-1 win over the Bears. In limited time this season due to early-season injury, McNaughton has now won his past four singles matches.

As the only undefeated Pac-10 team in conference play, USC is on a path toward winning the Pac-10 title. USC has Arizona and UCLA left on its conference schedule, with UCLA, Stanford and Cal all with single Pac-10 losses to date. That means if the Trojans pick up a win this week at Arizona, they are assured at least a share of the Pac-10 crown. Taking an undefeated record into its April 17 home match against the Bruins sets up USC to finish with a perfect Pac-10 record if the Trojans can serve up their third win over UCLA this season. USC's last conference title came in 2008 after UCLA had to forfeit two wins, including one over the Trojans, due to an ineligible Bruin athlete. That gave USC a 7-0 mark in 2008 Pac-10 action to take the title -- USC's 29th all-time Pac-10 team championship. USC's last undefeated conference season was a 9-0 finish in 1987.

Steve Johnson was ranked #1 from January until March 2 when he moved to #3 for one rankings cycle. During that stretch, the sophomore earned his first career Pac-10 Player of the Week honor, beating UCLA's Holden Seguso and Wake Forest's #20 Tripper Carleton. After doing so, Johnson moved back to #1 and has remained there since. He now holds a 24-4 overall singles record and a 13-3 mark in dual-match play.

The No. 1 singles slot has been shared by Steve Johnson and Robert Farah to the tune of an 18-2 combined record in that position. Farah holds court with an 11-1 mark on top, falling only in a three-setter to then-#5 Dimitar Kutrovsky of Texas. Now ranked #15 in the nation, the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year currently boasts a 23-5 overall singles record with a 15-2 mark in dual-match play.

Daniel Nguyen has built up a nice 10-match singles winning streak as he rolls into this week's action. Along the way, Nguyen has snagged his first career Pac-10 Player of the Week honors -- two of them -- after bigtime singles and doubles play in USC's first win over Stanford and then later after a powerful road trip through Duke and Georgia. Nguyen is now ranked #83 in the nation in singles and holds a 28-5 overall record and 14-1 mark in dual-match play. He leads the team in singles wins, just ahead of Steve Johnson's 24 victories and Robert Farah's 23 to date. Jaak Poldma also has joined the 20-win club that Nguyen is leading.

A new member of the 20-win club this season, Jaak Poldma was the first to start the trend of Trojan Pac-10 Player of the Week honorees. At the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, Poldma tallied wins across the board, getting two singles and doubles wins and leading in both his suspended matches. Poldma stayed flawless in dual-match singles play from the No. 3 position, beating Kellen Damico of Texas and #118 Nick Meister of UCLA both in straight sets. His singles wins put him on a six-match overall win streak. Poldma also stretched to a six-match win streak in doubles with Peter Lucassen with that weekend's success, including an 8-6 upset of UCLA's #36 Brooklyn/Stewart. Poldma now ranks #73 in singles with a 20-6 overall record in singles with a 13-3 mark in dual-match play. Poldma and Lucassen are 13-23 together in doubles -- all in dual-match action.

USC's doubles strength has been key this season. Although pairings have been shuffling during dual-match play, the Trojans have won the doubles point in all but two matches this year. Those two lost doubles points both wound up as USC's only two losses to date -- vs. Texas and at Duke. With the majority of time at the top slot, the #8-ranked duo of Robert Farah and Steve Johnson hold a 9-1 record at No. 1, where USC is 14-5 overall. The large part of the No. 2 position has seen Johnson paired with Daniel Nguyen for a 4-0 record and Nguyen and Jason McNaughton going 3-2 together in that slot, although Nguyen and JT Sundling have paired up there recently and posted a 4-0 mark at No. 2 to date. The No. 3 spot has been largely comprised of Peter Lucassen and Jaak Poldma, who opened the year with a 10-0 record in that position and are now 13-3 together in dual-match doubles.

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