Top-ranked Southern California's Steve Johnson, the No. 1 collegiate player in the country, had a big hand in both of the Trojans' clinching victories on Friday, teaming with Roberto Quiroz for the doubles point and defeating Illinois' Dennis Nevolo 6-4, 6-3 to clinch the match.
© C. B. Schmelter/Georgia Sports Communication
By Chris Starrs, special to USTA.com
ATHENS, Ga. -- For the past three seasons, Southern California has knocked off the nation's top-seeded team en route to the NCAA national tennis championship. This year, the Trojans came into the tournament in a different posture -- as the hunted, rather than the hunter.
In pursuit of its fourth consecutive national title, the Trojans served notice Friday morning that they won't relinquish their hold on the championship without a battle of titanic proportions.
Behind senior Steve Johnson -- the No. 1 collegiate player in the nation -- USC recorded a 4-0 victory over Illinois Friday in the round of 16 at the NCAA Men's Tennis Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Johnson, who came into the match on a 62-game winning streak in singles, unnerved his Illinois opponents in both doubles and singles, not only with his play, but also with his keen court psychology. His animated reaction to a line call in doubles and his contention that his opponent served before he was ready in singles disturbed potential rallies and slowed the Illini's rhythm.
"He's been around and he's not afraid," said USC coach Peter Smith of Johnson, who with his partner Robert Quiroz clinched the doubles point with an 8-6 win over Roy Kalmanovich and Dennis Nevolo. "He's pretty special. He's a talented kid and a talented competitor."
Johnson, who also clinched the match in singles with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Nevolo (the nation's No. 7 player) said it's the Trojans' opponents, and not his team, that should feel the heat.
"I don't think we should feel so much pressure out there," he said. "I think the other team should feel the pressure because we're so solid from top to bottom. I just go out there with nothing to lose and play my game."
USC's other doubles victory came from Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento, who defeated Illinois' Ross Guignon and Tim Kopkiski 8-4.
Other singles winners for the Trojans incljuded Emilio Gonzalez at No. 4 and Sarmiento at No. 2.
USC will face Duke at noon on Sunday. Illinois' season ends at 19-8.
NO. 8 DUKE 4, BAYLOR 0
Duke's Chris Mengel defeated Roberto Maytin 7-5, 6-4 to clinch the Blue Devils' round of 16 victory over the Bears on Friday morning.
After Duke (25-5) captured the doubles point, Jason Tahir earned the first singles victory, 7-5, 6-0, over Julian Bley at No. 6. Henrique Cunha followed with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Mate Zsiga at No. 1.
"In the past 10 years, (Baylor) has finished top-10 almost every single year," said Duke coach Ramsey Smith. "They have a lot of veterans on the team as well as a bunch of seniors. They're a tough out and they're playing their best tennis of the year going into this tournament. So we were ready for battle and I'm just really proud of our guys."
The Blue Devils will face top-seeded Southern California at noon on Sunday in the quarterfinals. Baylor's season ends 19-12.
NO. 5 OHIO STATE 4, NO. 12 FLORIDA 1
Although they lost the doubles point, the Gators appeared to have the Buckeyes on the run in singles as they won first sets in four of six positions. But Ohio State flexed its considerable muscle to pull out the victory before Florida could battle back at 3 and 4 singles.
Blaz Rola earned the first singles victory at No. 2, defeating Tripper Carleton 6-4, 6-1, and after Florida's Floren Diep bested Devin McCarthy 6-4, 6-2 at No. 5, the Gators pulled to within one point with Nassim Slilam and Mike Alford winning their first sets.
Chase Buchanan defeated Florida's Bob van Overbeek 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1, and Alford, who has suffered from a variety of physical setbacks, was favoring both of his legs by his third-set game with Connor Smith and was unable to stem the tide of a 7-5, 1-6, 0-6 loss, which clinched the match for the Buckeyes (34-3).
"We were pretty fortunate to make it through the match," said Ohio State coach Ty Tucker. "We started off with some high-level doubles, We were able to secure the doubles point pretty quickly. We knew the toughest positions with Florida were singles. We knew we would have our hands full at 3 through 6 singles. We were in some trouble, but we put a lot of time in on the practice court and we have guys who like to compete, so I felt if we could make a move in the second set of a match, we just needed to find one other point.
"Connor Smith was able to get a break at 2-1 and make it 3-1. (Alford) had to take an injury timeout and wasn't able to compete his best from there on out. It obviously felt pretty good, but you had to feel for the kid who was in some pain and had to work his tail off. I give a lot of credit to Mike Alford. He kept playing."
Ohio State will face UCLA at noon on Sunday in the quarterfinals. Florida ends its season at 16-10.
NO. 4 UCLA 4, NO. 13 OLE MISS 1
Ole Miss surpised the crowd by winning the doubles point, but the Bruins made short work of the Rebels from that point on.
Fortunately for UCLA (25-3), the bottom of its singles order stepped up, with Adrien Puget defeating Johan Backstrom 6-1, 6-2 at No. 5, Marcos Giron besting William Kallberg 6-2, 6-4 at No. 4 and Dennis Mkrtchian clinching the match with a 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-2 win over Chris Thiemann.
The Bruins' Dennis Novikov made it 3-1 by defeating Jonas Lutjen 6-4, 6-2 at No. 3 singles.
"I know (Ole Miss coach) Billy Chadwick and his teams fight like heck," said UCLA coach Billy Martin. "They're always in good shape. I just knew it was going to be a really difficult match for us. Losing that doubles point put us in a deep hole, We had been really strong at 4, 5 and 6 all year and they came through for us, especially 4 and 5. They got us back on the board and gave us some confidence. (Novikov) probably played his best match. He's only been with us since the beginning of April, but what better time to do it than today."
UCLA will meet Ohio State at noon on Sunday in the quarterfinals. Ole Miss ends its season at 15-9.
NO. 3 VIRGINIA 4, NO. 14 CALIFORNIA 0
In recording its third straight shutout of the NCAA tournament, Virginia dispatched one Pack-12 team and will face another in Sunday's quarterfinals when it meets Stanford at 4 p.m.
The Cavaliers made quick work of the Bears, winning the doubles point in less than an hour and them claiming first-set victories in all six positions.
Alex Domijan was the first Cavalier off the court with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Nick Andrews at No. 2. Justin Shane made it 3-0 with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Gregory Bayane and Mitchell Frank closed the deal at No. 3 with a 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Carlos Cueto.
"I thought we played a great match today," said Virginia coach Brian Boland. "I was thrilled with how we came out in doubles. It has been something we have been working a lot on in recent weeks. We played at an extremely high level and that is something that is helpful for us. We did a decent job of carrying that into singles. It was good match."
NO. 11 STANFORD 4, NO. 6 KENTUCKY 1
In what might be considered the tournament's first upset, the Cardinal defeated the Wildcats for the second time this year and advanced to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season.
The match was not without high drama as Kentucky's Tom Jomby -- who was playing Stanford's John Morrissey at No. 4 singles -- was defaulted by the chair referee after being assessed a point and game penalty for code violations earlier in the match. The official also said that Jomby intentionally hit a ball at him, which led to the default.
Morrissey, who was winning in the third set by a 5-4 margin, was awarded the match-clinching victory.
Kentucky easily won the doubles point with a pair of 8-2 romps, but the Cardinal responded in singles play, winning the first set in all six positions. No. 1 Bradley Klahn earned the first win with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Eric Quigley and No. 2 Ryan Thacher soon followed with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Alex Musialek.
Daniel Ho made it 3-1 with a three-set win over Alejandro Gomez.
"Kentucky is a great team," said Stanford coach John Whitlinger. "They beat Georgia here. We had a great match with them at Indoors. They knew us and we knew them. After the doubles point, which was not close, we were able to refocus. I just told our guys to try and find that next gear; the gear that you don't think you have. Obviously, the guys did. I can't say enough about how these guys competed. This was a great team effort and I'm just very proud."
Stanford (20-8) will face Virginia in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Kentucky ends its season at 28-6.
NO. 2 GEORGIA 4, NO. 15 NORTH CAROLINA 0
With its convincing win over the Tar Heels, the Bulldogs are the Southeastern Conference's lone remaining representative, with Florida and Kentucky losing ealier in the day. In defeating North Carolina, Georgia (26-2) is on a 10-match winning streak and has 26 games for the first time in four years.
After winning the doubles point, the Bulldogs got two of their three singles victories from the bottom of their lineup. Hernus Pieters put Georgia up 2-0 with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Oystein Steiro at No. 6 and Nathan Pasha clinched the match at No. 5 with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over William Parker.
KU Singh was the others singles winner, besting Brenna Boyajian 6-3, 6-1 at No. 2.
"This is definitely a very deep lineup," said Georgia coach Manuel Diaz. "These guys at the bottom have provided a lot of winners this year. Traditionally, we've always had great depth and that's a staple. We don't really drop off a whole lot. That's one of our strengths this year. As we go forward, the top five teams in the country are pretty much the same way."
The Bulldogs will play at 4 p.m. on Sunday in the quarterfinals against xxx. North Carolina ends its season at 15-8.
NO. 7 PEPPERDINE 4, TULSA 1
Although the Waves (26-6) lost the doubles point to unranked Tulsa, they roared back in singles play to advance to the quarterfinals.
Mousheg Hovhannisyan captured the first singles win at No. 4, defeating Grant Ive 6-3, 6-4. No. 2 Finn Tearney made the score 2-1 with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 win over Clifford Marshland and Alex Llompart moved the Waves to within one point of advancement with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Ashley Watling at No. 3.
It took three sets, but Jenson Turner clinched the match at No. 6, defeating Alejandro Espejo 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Pepperdine will square off against Georgia at 4 p.m. Sunday. Tulsa ends its season at 20-9.
No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 9 California, noon
No. 5 Southern California vs. No. 4 Stanford, noon
No. 3 Duke vs. No. 6 Georgia, 4 p.m.
No. 10 Miami vs. No. 2 Florida, 4 p.m.