By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
– Two of college tennis’ powerhouse programs and intra-city rivals USC and UCLA could possibly meet for the third time this season, as the first Pac-12 Men’s Championships dual-match format event kicks off at the 112th annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament starting Wednesday.
UCLA snapped reigning NCAA champion USC’s 45-match winning streak last Friday in the Pac-12 regular-season finale with a 4-3 road victory at USC’s Marks Stadium. USC beat UCLA in Westwood on Feb. 29, 6-1.
USC won the doubles point on Friday and got wins in singles from No. 1 Steve Johnson and No. 3 Daniel Nguyen, both Southern California natives and USC’s lone seniors who were playing in their final regular-season match at Marks Stadium.
Johnson, from the City of Orange, won the NCAA men’s singles title last year and has won 58 consecutive collegiate matches dating back to last year. He is currently ranked No. 368 in the ATP world rankings.
"No worries, it happens," Johnson said of the loss on Friday, the first for USC in 14 months. "We’ve been playing all year like we’ve got nothing to lose and playing to win. But I think today some of the guys played not to lose.
"I think it’s a blessing in disguise," added Johnson, who won the Pac-10 men’s singles title last year at The Ojai. "We’re just going to work that much harder, and we’re not going to want to have this feeling again. I’m excited about the new team format, and I think everyone is. I guess it’s nice for me personally to be the last individual winner, so that’s kind of special for me. I think we will meet these guys (UCLA) in the finals next Saturday, and hopefully the outcome will be different."
As the top two seeded teams, UCLA and USC advance to the semifinals on Friday at noon and 3 p.m. PT, respectively. On Wednesday, No. 5 Washington plays No. 8 Arizona at 11 a.m., followed by No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 7 Utah at Libbey Park in downtown Ojai. On Thursday, No. 4-seeded California will play the Washington-Arizona winner at 11 a.m., and No. 3 Stanford will play the Oregon-Utah winner at 2 p.m.
Nguyen, who is from Oxnard but played high school tennis at Santa Barbara High, is excited about the new team format. "We’ll be able to get a little revenge now against UCLA, so we’re looking forward to something new with the first team format at Ojai," he said.
Last year’s Ojai Men’s Open winner, Marcos Giron, is now a UCLA freshman and posted a big singles win at No. 4 on Friday.
"I’m pumped for Ojai because I’ve had such great memories there," Giron said. "I won the Open last year and the CIF for Thousand Oaks High a couple years back. It’s the first year of the team event, and we want to be the ones to start it off with a ‘W’. If we play SC again, it’s going to be tough but definitely very doable. We knew going into this match that we could beat them, but now that we’ve actually done it, it’s different. It just gives us that much more confidence."
UCLA Coach Billy Martin, who won the Ojai Pac-8 singles title as a Bruin in 1975, said this should be a year to remember at The Ojai.
"I think we’re all wondering how it’s going to work out," he said. "I think it will be fun. The teams that have guys that are injured, it will be tough. I’ve always felt from an individual standpoint it was easier to leave guys out of Ojai and get them healthy for the NCAAs. But from an excitement standpoint, I think it will be great for the crowds. I mean, to see a match like this? If it can be duplicated, I think it can only make The Ojai that much more exciting this year. It’s a great tournament as it is."
The Pac-12 Women’s Championships begin Thursday and remain a 32-player singles and 16-team doubles individual event. The nation’s ITA-ranked No. 3-6 players will all compete, including No. 3 Robin Anderson (UCLA), No. 4 Nicole Gibbs (Stanford), No. 5 Mallory Burdette (Stanford) and No. 6 Jana Juricova (California).
The Ojai, a Southern California tennis tradition since 1896, is the oldest amateur tournament played at the same location in the United States. The Ojai features competition among more than 1,500 junior, high school, collegiate and adult players at more than 100 courts and 30 sites in Ventura County, including private courts in Ojai.
Located in the heart of downtown Ojai, Libbey Park is the tournament’s principal venue and site of the annual Pac-12 Championship matches, as well as the finals of all 27 divisions of The Ojai, including the collegiate Div. III West Regionals, Community and Independent Colleges, Junior and CIF events, and the Open division.
The Ojai is now on Facebook and Twitter. Follow all 27 divisions, including the Pac-12 Championships, collegiate divisions, Open, California Interscholastic Federation (high school) and junior action on Twitter
and like us on Facebook
About The Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament
The Ojai Valley Tennis Club, founded in 1895, and sponsor of the largest amateur tennis tournament in the United States, will present the 112th Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament, April 24-29. The bucolic southern California community of Ojai, surrounded by rugged mountains and nestled among orange groves, has hosted the tournament, referred to as ‘The Ojai®,’ since 1896, when it was founded by NCAA doubles champion William L. Thacher to promote amateur tennis in California. Operating with no paid employees and no tennis courts of its own, the non-profit Ojai Valley Tennis Club produces The Ojai through the concerted efforts of more than 500 volunteers. The club led the effort to rebuild the city’s four upper public courts in 2003 and completed reconstruction of the four lower courts in 2011. The Ojai finished runner-up in the USTA’s "Best Tennis Town in America" ratings in 2009. Libbey Park is the main venue for the tournament. The courts, in the heart of downtown Ojai, are the site of the annual Pac-12 championship matches and the finals of all divisions of The Ojai, including Div. III West Regionals, Community and Independent Colleges, Junior and CIF events, and the Open.