USC junior Daniel Nguyen
© USC Sports Information
Daniel Nguyen serves during a match.
© Dan Avila/USC Sports Information
Daniel Nguyen was named Most Outstanding Player during the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
© Dan Avila/USC Sports Information
Currently ranked No. 34 in the ITA Division I Men's National Singles Rankings, Daniel Nguyen is a junior on the back-to-back NCAA champion USC men’s tennis team. Nguyen, from Oxnard, Calif., was named the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player last year after notching the match-clinching singles win and also tallying four other singles victories during the NCAA Tournament. He recently spoke to USTA.com about how his team deals with the pressure of being the two-time defending NCAA champions, what a typical day is like for him, which school has the rowdiest fans and much more.
USTA.com: Talk a little about your recruiting experience and why you chose USC. Did you think about getting out of the state of California, or did you know you’d want to stay close to home?
Daniel Nguyen: I actually had a very unique recruiting experience. I was set on going to UCLA because my best friend went there, but things did not work out, so I decided to choose USC because of its strong academic and athletic programs. The lesson I learned is to always keep your options open and nothing is ever final until it is final. In the end it couldn’t have worked out better, but I was extremely lucky. I don’t think I ever thought of leaving California; I was set on staying in California because of the beautiful weather, and being close to home allowed my friends and family to come out and support my tennis.
USTA.com: Describe a typical day for you – class, practice, strength and conditioning, etc.
Daniel Nguyen: Usually my days are really structured. I wake up in the morning with morning workouts twice a week. I go to class four hours a day, in addition to 2-3 hours of practice five days a week. During season, I stay focused in school and on the court and leave my socializing for the weekends with my friends and teammates after matches.
USTA.com: Is it difficult to balance all your classes and schoolwork with your tennis? Any tips?
Daniel Nguyen: Yes, it is definitely tough to balance your academics with tennis, but what I’ve learned in college is to focus on time management and to stay on top of all my schoolwork and activities. Sleep and proper nutrition has proved to be an important part of my daily routine and has helped to give me the energy needed to go through my days.
USTA.com: The last two seasons, your team has won the national title. Do you guys feel the pressure this year? How do you deal with it?
Daniel Nguyen: Definitely. There is always pressure because, as athletes, we always want to push ourselves to be better than years past. Pressure can serve as a motivator from external and internal sources. Externally, other teams see the target on our backs and look at USC as the team to beat. Internally, our pressure comes from our own self-motivation, as well as stress from school and other activities. We deal with this pressure by taking every match one at time and by overcoming adversities. A good mindset our team has is that because we are the back-to-back defending champions, we know what it is like to be in the finals and have played through many tough rounds at the NCAA tournament. Other teams may not have had this experience, so in retrospect, our experience helps to alleviate some pressure.
USTA.com: What are your goals for yourself and for your team this season?
Daniel Nguyen: My goals for myself this year are to stay healthy, continue to work hard, play consistently and be a player that my team can rely on in singles and in doubles. In terms of goals for the team, the main goal is to win the NCAA Championships once again. Day-to-day goals for the team are to continue to push each other to practice hard and motivate each other to improve.
USTA.com: You have a reputation as a clutch performer in big team matches, being named to the NCAA all-tournament team the past two seasons and being named the 2010 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Performer after clinching the match with your win against Tennessee. What is it about the team format that gets you fired up?
Daniel Nguyen: Being so close to my teammates and knowing most of them throughout the juniors gives me a reason to want to win for them and with them. I look at the USC tennis team not as a team with individually great players but a family that wants the best for each other.
USTA.com: There are some big rivalries in the Pac-10. What match do you look forward to each spring?
Daniel Nguyen: The rivalry between UCLA and USC always increases the stakes for both sides. As a Trojan, there is no better feeling than beating the Bruins, and I would believe that the Bruins would feel the same way towards the Trojans. This is also the match that brings the most amount of fans, and the atmosphere during the match is electric.
USTA.com: You guys travel a lot. What school has the rowdiest fans?
Daniel Nguyen: Baylor has rowdy fans, and from last year’s NCAA final, it would seem as though the Tennessee Volunteers have their set of loyal fans, as well. I remember during doubles last year, I would toss a ball up to serve, and all I would see was a ‘Sea of Orange.’ Another rowdy crowd, if not the rowdiest crowd, is the University of Georgia. The stadium is unlike any stadium in college tennis, and for every match, it seems as though there is always a stadium full of Georgia Bulldogs ready to heckle and distract.
USTA.com: Last summer, you were selected to the 2010 USTA Collegiate Team. How was that experience? What did you learn from it?
Daniel Nguyen: It was an incredible experience to be selected to the 2010 USTA Collegiate Team. The experience was very helpful, as I had the experience to travel and play Futures and other Pro Circuit tournaments with some of the best college players. Traveling with the team and being coached by the most prestigious coaches helped to expose me to the USTA Pro Circuit life. It made realize how hard pros have to train, day in and day out.
USTA.com: What’s the best advice you’ve received during your tennis career?
Daniel Nguyen: Stay in the present, work hard and believe in yourself. Tennis is a sport where there will be many ups and downs. A match is constructed through points, games, sets, and it is very easy to lose focus. By handling these adversities and maintaining a positive mindset fixed in my head, it allows me to relax and play the match point by point.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior players who want to play college tennis?
Daniel Nguyen: For juniors who want to play college tennis, I would recommend setting realistic goals and aiming to accomplish those goals. It is important to be realistic but still optimistic at the same time. This would include contacting coaches at schools that would be a good fit for you or even telling yourself things like, "I’m going to reach the quarterfinals or better in this tournament." Tennis is a journey, and it’s important to not get burned out. Practice hard, but don’t let tennis be the only thing in your life. If and when you do play college tennis, you will learn there is so much more than just athletics. From my own experience, balancing academics, social life and tennis has helped to fuel my passion for the game, and I would hope juniors would have this same philosophy, as well.