After an entertaining weekend of Men’s singles action at the 2017 SoCal Intercollegiate Championships, Monday’s finale featured a perennial NCAA Division I favorite and an underdog from Division II Azusa Pacific University (APU).
The unique format provided such an opportunity for APU’s Oliver Frank, the 6’1” native of Germany who holds the Cougar’s all-time record for combined winning percentage in singles and doubles (46-4, .920). In this week’s event at Marks Stadium at USC, the unseeded Frank notched main draw wins over three seeded opponents – all of them USC Trojans, including #2 Laurens Verboven. In the final, he faced another Trojan, the top seed Brandon Holt.
Holt, a sophomore from Palos Verdes, is a familiar name in collegiate tennis. He ranks in the top 20 nationwide both in singles and tandem play, was an All Pac-12 First Team selection in his second year, and is widely regarded as an exceptional talent headed to the professional ranks.
Still, the day belonged to Frank, a straight set victor in the championship finale. Both players held serve early, focused on fundamentals and methodic play. The big, muscular Frank punished the ball with heavy groundstrokes while Holt moved fluidly and seemed unfazed by his opponent’s command of both the baseline and the net.
The first dent in armor came at 4-3 in the first set, when Holt committed a double fault to give his opponent two critical game points. Frank prevailed for a 5-3 lead, and combined the finesse of drop shots and a powerful forehand winner to tally the first set, 6-3.
In the second frame, Holt came out strong and looked to regain momentum with an easy hold. The two would remain on course until Frank broke the Trojan serve for a 3-2 lead. But Holt, his team’s primary number one player, was quick to answer. At break point, Frank ripped a ball off the net cord, leaving an easy winner in Holt’s wheelhouse, at the set was even at 3-3.
Holt pushed even harder on his next service game, running Frank side to side, stroking winners into the open court and adding pace to his service game. At 4-3, Holt looked poised to force a third set.
Frank thought otherwise, holding serve at 4-4 and then breaking Holt for a 5-4 advantage. By the tenth and decisive game of the second set, Frank continued to pound away at groundstrokes, surging to victory with a powerful forehand that sealed the win, 6-3, 6-4.
“I knew it would be faster than D2,” said Frank of the challenge facing and ultimately dispatching upper echelon opponents. “(Holt) is a great player in Division I and in California. I like to play those opponents, when I’m the underdog. I play way more loose. I knew I needed to move better and be more focused. If I lose focus, I lose momentum.”
Concurrently on an adjoining court, four Trojans battled for the doubles title in an all-USC final. Laurens Verboven & Tanner Smith earned a convincing 8-3 win over teammates Jake DeVine & Logan Smith.
“We just know each other’s games really well,” Tanner Smith said after the match, complimenting his USC Trojan squad. “We had three of the four finalists (today), everyone’s playing well, and we’re seeing great results.”
The Trojans move next to Indian Wells for the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships. Oliver Frank and Azusa Pacific return to action in the new year, facing CalTech in February.