No. 13 USC Men’s Tennis Wraps Regular Season At Home Against Rival UCLA
The No. 13 Trojans are back for more at Marks Stadium this week, setting up to host rival UCLA in their final regular-season match. USC (16-6, 4-2 Pac-12) looks to claim a third win over the No. 27 Bruins (11-4, 4-2) this season when the two square off at 3 p.m. on Friday (April 16) on the Trojans' home turf. Before the match, USC will honor its two graduating seniors, Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith, in a Senior Day ceremony. As of April 13, following state and county public health approvals, USC's remaining 2021 outdoor home spring sports events will be open to a limited number of family members and guests of participating student-athletes and coaches.
IN THE RANKINGS
The Trojans opened 2021 ranked No. 1 in the nation — the same spot it wrapped the shortened 2020 season. As of the latest set of Oracle/ITA National Team Computer Rankings (released April 14), USC is ranked at No. 15 in the nation. Also on April 14, the ITA released its second Coaches Poll, which has USC at No. 13 in the nation. Oracle/ITA individual rankings were also released on April, with four Trojans ranked in singles: -#29 Riley Smith, #42 Daniel Cukierman, #87 Stefan Dostanic and #111 Mor Bulis. In doubles, USC has Cukierman/R. Smith now ranked at #5 in the land.
The No. 27 Bruins are 11-4 overall and 4-2 in Pac-12 play after a 4-3 loss to Stanford last week. UCLA has three players ranked in singles — #37 Keegan Smith, #62 Govind Nanda and #109 Drew Baird — and no ranked doubles teams. In a series dating back to 1929, USC is 98-114 all-time against UCLA after two wins over the Bruins this season so far. The Trojans tallied a 4-1 win over UCLA at the ITA Kickoff Weekend at Marks Stadium in January and then beat the Bruins 4-3 in a nonconference battle at LA Tennis Center in February.
USC wound up on the sour end of a string of tight road matches last weekend, falling 4-3 at the hands of host No. 29 Stanford. USC snagged the doubles point and had a slim lead in doubles before the Cardinal gathered wins on the top two courts to get ahead of the Trojans. Doubles came down to court two, where USC's pair of Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye had been perfect together all season. The Trojan duo held their ground again, securing the doubles point for USC with a 7-5 win. That had followed an opening 6-1 win at the top spot by USC's #2 Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith and a 6-4 defeat for Ryder Jackson and Lodewijk Weststrate on court three in a tense tangle of doubles action. Singles would stretch into an even tighter string of tests. USC's 1-0 lead would dissipate when Stanford's Tristan Boyer served up a rare loss to USC's Bradley Frye with a 6-4, 6-4 decision on court four. The rest of the matches would need three sets to decide. At the No. 3 position, USC's #87 Stefan Dostanic snagged the lead back for USC with a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 comeback win over Alexandre Rotsaert. But the Cardinal fired right back, collecting a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win from #95 Arthur Fery over USC's #28 Riley Smith on court two. Then, at the top slot, Stanford's Axel Geller took the Cardinal to its first lead with a tough 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (2) victory over USC's #26 Daniel Cukierman. That left three-setters raging on courts five and six, where USC's hopes of a comeback remained intact with both Trojans getting up a break in their respective third sets. On court six, USC's Jake Sands stuck to his guns in his third set and snarled things up 3-3 on his 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-2 win over William Genesen. All eyes then turned to court five, where Stanford's Timothy Sah was making moves against USC freshman Lodewijk Weststrate. After tiebreakers decided the first two sets, Sah stepped things up and grabbed the clincher with a 6-7 (4), 7-5 (7), 7-5 comeback to net the 4-3 win for Stanford.
BY THE NUMBERS
USC's winningest player to date is newcomer Lodewijk Weststrate, who has churned out 20 singles wins in his freshman campaign as a Trojan so far. Next in line with 14 singles wins apiece are Stefan Dostanic, Bradley Frye and Riley Smith. In doubles, USC's top pairs have gone a combined 24-2 in dual-match play. Top-ranked Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith are currently 14-2 at the No. 1 spot on the year, while Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye boast a perfect 10-0 mark to date on court two.
BEATING THE BRUINS
In position for his first match-clinching victory of the year, junior Jake Sands showed no fear. Rather, he calmly claimed his crown as the hero of the day as he turned the tide for No. 9 USC from court six, closing out a three-set comeback to notch a 4-3 victory for the Trojans over crosstown rival No. 17 UCLA at Los Angeles Tennis Center. USC had led it 2-0 before the Bruins stole into the lead, leaving it up to Sands and freshman Lodewijk Weststrate to pull off three-set battles if the Trojans were to pull out the rivalry win. After USC claimed the double point, UCLA captured the first sets on all but one court in singles. At the No. 4 spot, USC's Bradley Frye sizzled his way to a 6-2, 6-3 win over UCLA's #109 Sam Feit to pin a 2-0 lead on the board for the Trojans. But USC still had a good amount of singles ground to make up in order to bring home a win with first-set deficits to overcome on the other five courts. That pressure cranked up further when UCLA captured straight-set wins on the top two courts to tie things up 2-2. At the No. 2 spot, Drew Baird beat USC's #19 Riley Smith 6-3, 6-4 just before #10 Keegan Smith topped USC's #1 Daniel Cukierman 6-2, 7-5 at the top spot. UCLA would capture a third straight singles win to go ahead 3-2 when Ben Goldberg pushed past USC's #26 Mor Bulis for a 7-6 (5), 6-2 decision on court three.That left two Trojans aiming for third sets to get USC a shot at victory. On court five, USC freshman Lodewijk Weststrate battled back against Roscoe Bellamy to force a third set there. And while Weststrate was charging through his third set, teammate Jake Sands forced a third of his own on court six to keep USC alive. Weststrate's full-court press in the third drew the Trojans back even with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-0 comeback effort to beat Bellamy. That left Sands starting up his third set against Patrick Zahraj in the No. 6 slot to decide things. With all eyes on his court, Sands didn't flinch. The junior rallied out ahead of Zahraj 5-2 in the third, surrendered one more game and then closed things down in Westwood with his 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 clincher for the Trojan cause. The win was USC's second over UCLA this season, following a 4-1 win over the Bruins during ITA Kickoff Weekend action last month.
STARTING ON TOP
USC entered the new year with authority, boasting a sweep of the first ITA national rankings as the No. 1 team with the No. 1 singles player and No. 1 doubles pair. As the Trojans prepared to start up their 2021 campaign, USC head coach Brett Masi had his team at the top, while senior Daniel Cukierman stood tall as the nation's No. 1 singles player while also pairing up with returning senior Riley Smith for the No. 1 doubles rank. When 2020 competition was suspended back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, USC was coming off a big victory at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The Trojans were No. 1 in the nation, and Cukierman was the No. 1 singles player.
CUKIERMAN CATCHES CONFERENCE HONORS
Senior Daniel Cukierman picked up the first weekly prize of the year from the Pac-12 in securing his third career selection as Pac-12 Player of the Week on Feb. 4. Cukierman was perfect in singles and doubles as the Trojans tallied two dual-match wins to improve to 3-0 on the year. Most notably, top-ranked Cukierman came through with a three-set comeback win in singles to beat UCLA's #10 Keegan Smith in the ITA Kickoff Weekend championship match, clinching victory for the Trojans to punch up USC's 13th straight title at the event and ensuring USC would make a 13th straight trip to ITA National Team Indoor Championship. USC won the national title at that event last year. Also against the Bruins, Cukierman paired with fellow senior Riley Smith — together ranked as the No. 1 doubles team in the nation — for a win on court one before coming through with the singles clincher later. Later in the week, USC took on LMU and served up a sweep of the Lions thanks in part to wins from Cukierman in doubles and singles again.
DOSTANIC DEBUTS ON PAC-12 HONOR ROLL
USC sophomore Stefan Dostanic snagged his first Pac-12 Player of the Week honors on February 23 after another smooth doubles win and a singles victory for the Trojans. He's the second USC player to win the award this season, joining Daniel Cukierman as an honoree. This week, Dostanic came up with the first doubles and singles wins of the day for the No. 8 Trojans in their 4-0 victory over visiting No. 14 Oklahoma State. Dostanic and doubles partner Bradley Frye stayed perfect in doubles action with their 6-2 win at the No. 2 spot to get USC off on a winning note against the Cowboys. Ranked No. 104 in the nation in singles, Dostanic later topped Oklahoma State's No. 86 Henrik Korsgaard in straight sets 6-1, 6-3 to make it a 2-0 Trojan lead en route to USC's sweep at Marks Stadium. Dostanic has lost just one doubles match and three singles matches this season.
FRYE'S FIRST PAC-12 PICK
Bradley Frye secured his first career award from the conference in his March 16 selection as the Pac-12 Player of the Week. He was the spark behind the Trojans' sweep in their Pac-12 opener against Utah, snagging the first doubles victory and the first singles win of the day for USC. Paired up with freshman Sean Holt, Frye stayed strong in the doubles realm as the pair whipped up a swift 6-1 win on court three to set USC up for success against the Utes. Playing at the No. 2 singles spot for just the second time in his Trojan career, Frye was all business and delivered a speedy 6-3, 6-3 win to take the Trojans to a 2-0 lead. The win was Frye's fifth consecutive singles victory, lifting him to 9-2 overall on the year in the singles realm.
The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to activities around the world, including all NCAA competition. When the 2020 season was suspended, the USC men's tennis team was standing tall as the top-ranked team in the nation for the fifth consecutive week — the Trojans' longest run at No. 1 since 2012. At 13-1 overall and recently crowned as the ITA National Indoor Champions, USC was looking like a solid frontrunner for the 2020 NCAA Championship under the direction of first-year head coach Brett Masi. Masi had taken over the reins of the Trojan tennis program in August 2019, leading a talented USC roster that featured a strong blend of veterans and youth. Senior All-Americans Brandon Holt and Riley Smith were joined by former team manager Rae Lan to round out USC's 2020 senior class. The savvy Daniel Cukierman stood tall as USC's lone junior on the roster, and he'd work his way to rank No. 1 in the nation in singles by the close of competition. USC's sophomore class featured Mor Bulis, Bradley Frye and Jake Sands, who were all coming off of solid first seasons as Trojans. Bulis shined particularly bright in the fall and cracked the top-10 singles rankings at No. 9 in the land at the same time that his fellow Israeli teammate Cukierman stepped to No. 1. USC's two newcomers were feisty freshmen Stefan Dostanic and Ryder Jackson. Both would show their mettle in the fall, and both became mainstays in the dual-match lineup that saw the Trojans take over the nation. •