Saturday, October 21

Tennis upsets ‘SC in final match

Men's squad scores a surprise win against rivals, carried by freshman's comeback

If someone had told UCLA men’s tennis coach Billy Martin that the Bruins’ third match of the season against rival USC would come down to the final match on court 6, winner take all, and that Bruin freshman Maxime Tabatruong would come back from a 4-1 deficit in the third set to clinch the win for UCLA, Martin probably would not have believed it.

But one of the greatest aspects of the sporting world actually occurred Friday: the almighty upset.

The No. 12 UCLA Bruins (14-6 4-2 Pac-10), after being demolished by their crosstown rivals twice on the season already, defeated the No. 4 Trojans (19-3, 5-1) at USC’s Marks Tennis Stadium, 4-3.

Prior to Friday’s match, not only was Martin unsure how his team would come out against the Trojans, he was not even sure who would be playing for his Bruin squad.

“You could probably tell from talking to me the day or two before that I wasn’t real optimistic,” Martin said. “We haven’t matched up well against them and I wasn’t sure if (Haythem) Abid would play doubles and singles. So I knew a win wasn’t out of question, but I didn’t feel real good about it. But we had some breaks and some things go our way.”

UCLA did in fact get a break, when redshirt senior Haythem Abid, who has been battling a left wrist injury for the past few weeks, suited up for singles and defeated USC’s Jaak Poldma on court three.

But in the eyes of many, having a rivalry match come down to a third set between a Bruin freshman and a Trojan senior would not be considered a “break” for UCLA.

With the dual-match tied 3-3, USC senior Jason McNaughton, after battling back from a set down to tie things at a set apiece, took a 4-1 lead in the third and final set over the freshman Tabatruong, and looked close to closing in on the victory for the Trojans.

But Tabatruong returned the favor, clawing his way back into the set and taking five consecutive points to claim the set, 6-4, and giving the Bruins the 4-3 upset over their rivals.

“I think Max (Tabatruoung) rose to the occasion,” Martin said. “For a young freshman to be put in that spot, it was crucial for him gaining experience. That’s a tough position to be in as a senior or freshman. It’s huge for him maturing.”

Despite Tabatruong’s huge victory, maybe the second most important point of the day came on the doubles front, where UCLA captured the doubles point for the first time against USC this season.

After USC’s No. 5 doubles duo of Robert Farah and Steve Johnson took down UCLA’s No. 19 tandem of Amit Inbar and Nick Meister, the final two doubles matches came down to tiebreakers, both of which the Bruins were able to pull out.

From that point on, singles became a back and forth duel before Tabatruong clinched the match on court 6.

And for Martin, he hopes that Friday gives his Bruin squad the confidence they so desperately need heading into the NCAA Tournament in less than a month.

“That’s of as great a value as anything. It should give us quite a bit of confidence going into the NCAA Tournament. I told the guys, that (USC) team has as good a chance as any to win the whole thing. So if we play hard and are healthy, we’re capable of competing for the championship as well.”

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