USC men’s tennis wasn’t supposed to be good this year.
The Trojans lost four seniors last year, all who were ranked in the top 50 in singles, and this year’s squad consists mostly of underclassmen. But they are hot after taking down the Stanford Cardinal in a more commanding fashion than the Bruins did.
No. 4 UCLA will have the chance to dampen its crosstown rival’s recent success Tuesday, when it hosts No. 13 USC for the first time in 2016 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.
“Of course the rivalry is huge, but also just because they’re a really strong team and we’re a really strong team so the significance is really big,” said junior Gage Brymer. “Any time we get the chance to beat ‘SC is important to us for the crosstown rivalry, obviously.”
UCLA and USC have both had their share of early season success, with wins against top programs. Even though the Bruins are ranked higher, it is expected to be a close match.
“It’s not going to be like a 7-0 either way; it’s either going to be a 5-2 or 4-3,” said sophomore Martin Redlicki. “The doubles point is going to be huge and just whoever shows up to play that day is going to be the team that wins.”
The Bruins have not beaten the Trojans in a dual match since the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament finals, dropping three matches to the Trojans last year.
“Last year getting swept by USC, obviously, you don’t feel too great about that. They lost some guys and we got a lot of good players,” Redlicki said. “We feel like we can really compete with the best teams and we feel like we have a really good chance to beat ‘SC.”
Aside from a loss to the Trojans last spring, the Bruins have been undefeated at home for this season and last.
USC boasts a high quality singles lineup with five players ranked in the top 100. Max de Vroome, likely the Trojan’s No. 1 player in singles, will be a big threat. De Vroome is coming off an upset win over Stanford’s No. 4-ranked Tom Fawcett last Friday, which helped the Trojans to a 5-2 shellacking over the Cardinal. He will likely face junior Mackie McDonald, whom he hasn’t played since 2014.
Other Trojans such as Logan Smith and Nick Crystal will be threats in singles play, as well.
“You just don’t know what coach (Peter) Smith is going to make his lineup around,” said coach Billy Martin. “He’s very good at knowing who he wants to have matched up against our players and vice versa. I think it would be just speculation to think I could tell you who’s going to play who.”
Martin said he was disappointed in doubles play last Saturday. Since returning home, the team has been devoting more practice time to working on doubles-intensive work.
One remaining question mark on UCLA’s roster is sophomore Austin Rapp. He has been absent from the singles and doubles lineup for the past two dual matches because of a sprained ankle he suffered at the ITA Division I National Men’s Indoor Championship earlier in February. Martin said his return would likely be a game-day decision.