No. 13 USC Men’s Tennis Takes Aim At Fifth Pac-12 Tournament Title
The No. 13 Trojans set up defense of their 2019 Pac-12 Tournament title in a new venue from past Pac-12 tourneys. After last year's tournament was not held due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event moves to Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, Calif., with action running April 24-26. USC (17-6) has secured the No. 3 seed, putting the Trojans up against No. 6 seeded Oregon (15-5) in a 6 p.m. quarterfinal match on Saturday (April 24). A win would put USC in a 3 p.m. semifinal against either No. 2 seed Arizona or No. 7 seed Utah on Sunday (April 25). The 2021 Pac-12 Championship match is set for 3 p.m. on Monday (April 26) and will be televised by Pac-12 Networks.
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 21), USC is ranked at No. 15 in the nation. Also on April 21, 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 21, with three Trojans ranked in singles: -#36 Riley Smith, #40 Daniel Cukierman and #82 Stefan Dostanic. In doubles, USC has Cukierman/R. Smith now ranked at #14 in the land.
TROJANS AT PAC-12 TOURNEYS
Since the team event began in 2012, USC has won four Pac-12 Tournament titles — 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2019 — and has reached the final every year but 2016. USC has faced UCLA five times in the title match, winning twice (2012 and 2017). In 2015, USC beat Stanford in the final, and the Trojans' most recent title came in a sweep of Cal in 2019. The 2020 tournament was not held due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For first time, the Pac-12 is hosting its team tennis tournament in San Diego, Calif., having held the event in Ojai, Calif., from 2012-2019. The tourney will determine the automatic qualifier for the coming 2021 NCAA Men's Championship. Teams are seeded based on won-lost percentages during regular-season conference play. Four quarterfinal matches will take place on Friday (April 25). Top-seeded Stanford will take on No. 8 seed Washington; No. 4 seed UCLA faces No. 5 seed Arizona State; No. 2 seed Arizona plays No. 7 seed Utah; and the No. 3 seeded Trojans face No. 6 seed Oregon. Semifinals are set for 3 p.m. on Sunday (April 25). All men's tournament matches will be played at Barnes Tennis Center, culminating with the team championship at 3 p.m. on Monday (April 26). Friday and Saturday matches will be streamed at pac-12.com/live, and Monday's championship match will air on Pac-12 Networks.
USC worked its way to its fourth Pac-12 Tournament title in 2019. The No. 2 seed in the tourney, USC cruised past No. 7 seeded Washington 4-0 in the quarterfinals to get to the semifinals for the eighth consecutive year. Against the Huskies, USC snagged a speedy doubles point and then pressed on to claim three straight-set singes victories on wins from Tanner Smith, Daniel Cukierman and Jake Sands. In the semis vs. Stanford, the Trojans again whipped up the doubles point and then moved ahead 3-0 with singles wins from Brandon Holt and Sands before the Cardinal answered back with two singles wins. On court two, however, USC had a determined Cukierman finish things off with a 6-4, 7-6 (6) win to lock up the 4-2 decision and take that ticket to the title match. In the title match for the seventh time, USC cleaned up a 4-0 sweep of No. 33 California to claim the Trojans' fourth Pac-12 Tournament Championship. While three three-setters raged in singles play, USC saw freshman Sands coolly claim a straight-set clincher to follow wins from Cukierman and Laurens Verboven to get USC the title, the ticket to NCAA action and another 20-win season.
USC secured a Senior Day victory in beating rival UCLA 6-1 at Marks Stadium in the Trojans' final regular-season match. Both USC seniors — Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith —helped manufacture the Trojans' comeback effort after the Bruins scored the doubles point. Cukierman claimed the first singles win of day, followed by straight-set victories from Lodewijk Weststrate and Smith to set up the clincher from Bradley Frye. The doubles point came down to the top spot after UCLA claimed a win on court three and USC fired back with a victory on court two from still-undefeated Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye. With all eyes on court one, the Trojans had match point taken away by an overruled line call, and the match would stretch into a deciding tiebreaker. There, the Bruins' Baird/Nanda pulled off the win for a 7-6 (4) decision over USC's 35 Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith to make it a 1-0 UCLA lead entering singles. The Trojans would rebound by snagging first sets down the line and pressed on from there. At the top slot, #42 Daniel Cukierman hit the gas and sped out of reach of #62 Govind Nanda for a 6-2, 6-0 win that evened things up 1-1. Over on court six, Lodewijk Weststrate made quick work of Roscoe Bellamy with a 6-2, 6-3 decision that tugged the Trojans into the lead, and USC would leave no doubt the rest of the way. On court two, #29 Riley Smith roared to a 6-3, 6-4 win over #109 Drew Baird to exact some revenge for the doubles loss at court one. With a 3-1 lead in place, Bradley Frye jumped at the chance to come through with the clincher. He'd claim a 6-3, 6-4 win over Ben Goldberg on court four to plug a 4-1 lead on the board for the Trojans. The match played on, and USC would collect two more sweeps to top off the day. Jake Sands snagged a 6-1, 7-6 (2) win on court five over Mathew Tsolakyan to make it 5-1, and then #84 Stefan Dostanic topped off the day's action with a 6-3, 7-5 decision over Sam Feit to net a 6-1 victory for the Trojans.
BY THE NUMBERS
USC's winningest player to date is newcomer Lodewijk Weststrate, who has churned out 21 singles wins in his freshman campaign as a Trojan so far. Next in line with 15 singles wins apiece are Stefan Dostanic, Bradley Frye and Riley Smith. In doubles, USC's top pairs have gone a combined 25-3 in dual-match play. Top-ranked Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith are currently 14-3 at the No. 1 spot on the year, while Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye boast a perfect 11-0 mark to date on court two.
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. •