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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No. 2 seed Arizona men’s tennis faces No. 7 seed USC to begin Pac-12 Tournament play

Colton+Smith+returns+the+ball+in+a+singles+match+against+ASU+on+April+7+at+Robson+Tennis+Center.+Smith+would+ultimately+fall+to+ASU+in+a+straight+set+loss+in+his+singles+match.
Jay Corella
Colton Smith returns the ball in a singles match against ASU on April 7 at Robson Tennis Center. Smith would ultimately fall to ASU in a straight set loss in his singles match.

The No. 2 seed Arizona men’s tennis team prepares for its Pac-12 Tournament play, where the Wildcats will face the No. 7 seed USC in their opening match. The Wildcats are traveling to Ojai, California, to begin play on Thursday, April 25, at 3 p.m. at Libbey Park.

Arizona (21-3, 7-1 in Pac-12) finished with the best overall record in the conference and concluded its regular season by winning four straight games, including a 4-2 victory against No. 21 ASU on Sunday, April 7. On the season, the Wildcats faced a total of 12 ranked opponents and finished 10-2 against the field.

USC (7-15, 2-5 in Pac-12) finished 7th in the conference standings and was able to close its season on a 4-0 victory over the University of Utah on Sunday, April 21. The Trojans this season played seven ranked opponents and did not win a single bout against any of them, with one of those teams being Arizona. For the most part this season, the Trojans have struggled heavily against conference opponents and even in their non-conference matches, but found marginal success despite those matches being more competitive than their Pac-12 play.

History vs. USC

Heading into this matchup, the Wildcats are set to face the Trojans for the 28th time, with USC historically holding the upper hand with a 23-4 lead in the all-time series. However, Arizona has secured victories in the last three meetings, including their most recent encounter on March 22 in California, where the Wildcats secured a decisive 4-0 win over the Trojans. Historically, Arizona has struggled against USC on the road, maintaining a 2-12 record.

Even with this game being played in USC’s home state, it could be considered a quasi-home game for the Trojans. Nonetheless, this season the Wildcats have performed well on the road, with a 4-1 record, and have also found success in neutral venues with a 7-1 standing. No matter where the Wildcats have played this season, they’ve found success, but the same can’t be said for USC. Even if we consider this to be a home game of sorts for the Trojans, this season they are only 6-6 at home and 0-4 in neutral venues so, despite the historical advantage, recent history clearly favors the Wildcats.

USC’s season

Brett Masi, in his fifth season as head coach at USC, has an impressive track record thus far, compiling an 80-22 record in the past four seasons. Under Masi’s leadership, the Trojans clinched their fourth consecutive Pac-12 championship in the 2023 season, finishing as the No. 10 ranked squad in the country with an overall record of 21-8.

Throughout this season, the Trojans have played in 22 matches, clinching victories in seven. Their season began with a resounding 7-0 victory against the University of California, Irvine. Notable wins followed against Southern Methodist University (4-2), San Diego State University (4-3) and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (5-2), culminating in an impressive 3-0 start to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kickoff Weekend and a 4-0 season start. However, challenges arose at the ITA National Team Indoor Championship, where the Trojans faced three consecutive ranked opponents. Despite their efforts, they were unable to secure a single victory, falling to the University of Tennessee (4-0), Duke University (4-1) and the University of Alabama (4-1). After these losses, the Trojans rebounded with a commanding victory over the University of Michigan (4-0) before facing a defeat against Pepperdine University (4-1) and then beginning a sequence of seven consecutive losses. Senior Day provided a glimmer of hope as the Trojans celebrated with a 4-1 triumph over the University of California, Berkeley. Yet, once again, after a win the Trojans suffered two more consecutive defeats but were able to close out their regular season with a decisive 4-0 sweep against the Utes.

As the Trojans enter tournament play, their success hinges on their top players, primarily senior Lodewijk Weststrate, who is 21-14 in singles play and has a commendable 4-1 record in conference matches. Weststrate is currently riding a four-match win streak heading into tournament play. Following his lead would be junior Karl Lee, who also presents a formidable contender with his 18-10 record in singles play this season, including a 3-3 record in conference matches, positioning him as another key player for the Trojans in singles competition during the tournament. While no standout pair has emerged in doubles matches, Stefan Dostanic and Oscar Weightman hold promise with a 2-0 record, riding a two-game streak together, suggesting they could provide a hot hand for the Trojans in tournament play.

Wildcats to watch 

This year’s Arizona team is arguably one of its best in recent memory, supported by its season statistics and national rankings. In singles play, the Wildcats have a record of 181-77, equating to a 70% winning percentage. Leading the charge in singles competition is none other than Casper Christensen, who’s currently riding a 12-game win streak. Throughout the regular season, Christensen finished with a remarkable 27-6 overall record and was the sole player on the team to remain undefeated in conference play. As the Wildcats navigate through the Pac-12 Tournament, Christensen will undoubtedly serve as the backbone of their singles play. However, he won’t be alone in this endeavor, as senior Herman Hoeyeraal stands shoulder to shoulder with him. Though statistically not as impressive as Christensen’s, Hoeyeraal’s performance on the court speaks volumes. This season, he holds a 25-8 record in singles play, including a 6-1 record against conference opponents, entering the tournament with a three-game win streak. Both Christensen and Hoeyeraal will spearhead the Wildcats’ singles play, yet they won’t be the only ones to deliver noteworthy performances. As previously mentioned, this season’s team is stacked, and their collective strength will continue to shine in the impending tournament.

In doubles play, several pairs have shown promise, but two stand out among the rest. That being No. 31 Jay Friend and Colton Smith, who lead the team in doubles wins with 22, having lost only eight matches in the regular season. Additionally, they also have an impressive 5-2 conference record together. However, their record pales in comparison to the duo of Hoeyeraal and Eric Padgham. With a 12-3 record as a doubles pair this season, Hoeyeraal and Padgham remain undefeated in conference play, boasting a flawless 6-0 record. They enter the tournament riding a six-game win streak in doubles, further solidifying their status as a formidable pairing on the court.


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