They love the heckling. They relish the insults of the rowdy crowd. For seniors Amit Inbar and Holden Seguso, it’s all just part of an away match against rival USC.
Today’s match, however, carries special significance for the seniors on the UCLA men’s tennis team, who will be playing their final away match at USC, where they have had great results throughout their careers. While the Bruins are trying to focus on the match rather than the rivalry, there is no question that this is not just another match on the schedule. This is USC, and this young UCLA squad, anchored by its two seniors, is ready for the challenge.
There are no secrets about the firepower that the Trojans, who have won back-to-back NCAA championships, possess in their lineup. Their top three players are battle tested, having been key contributors to last year’s squad, and top player Steve Johnson is the No. 1 player in all of college tennis.
“They look very strong again,” UCLA coach Billy Martin said. “They have great depth in their lineup and are very strong at the top of their lineup.”
For No. 6 UCLA (9-2), this match has real importance, given the team’s uncharacteristic performance last week against No. 14 California (5-3). Coming off of the disappointing 5-2 loss to the Bears, the Bruins look to rebound today.
“There is nothing to hide; everyone knows the history of the rivalry,” Inbar said. “We just have to come out fired up and execute our game plan.”
The No. 7 Trojans (9-2) boast hardened veterans at their top three spots but are also playing three freshmen in their singles lineup, like UCLA.
“If they are vulnerable it would be at (courts) four, five and six,” Martin said.
A key issue for the Bruins has been the doubles point. Against Cal, UCLA started slowly, something it cannot do if it hopes to secure the coveted doubles point.
“The doubles is definitely going to play a large part in determining the outcome,” Seguso said. “Their singles lineup is so good from top to bottom that we really need to start strong, win the doubles and carry that momentum over into the singles.”
Seguso said that the away match against USC is one of the high points of the season for him.
“It’s fun to go there and have the rowdy fans heckling you and calling you names,” he said. “That keeps me motivated and really helps me just focus on the tennis and staying in the moment.”
UCLA has had strong results against USC over the past few years ““ the Bruins beat the Trojans for the Pac-10 title in 2009 and defeated the Trojans 4-3 on the road last year.
“We have proved that we are as good a team as they are,” Inbar said. “There is no intimidation there. They have good players, but we know that we can show our talent and bring the “˜W’ back to Westwood.”