When it comes to collegiate men’s tennis, USC rules from all angles.
The Trojans have dominated this season, as their No. 3 ranking and perfect conference record will attest. They have been atop the nation in recent years as well, boasting back-to-back national championships. Combine that team success with the nation’s No. 1 player, and the Trojans have the talent to make their opponents as taut as the strings on their rackets.
Today, UCLA gets to end its regular season by seeing how it measures up against the top team in the land, which just happens to be its archrival as well. The No. 9 Bruins (16-5, 3-2 Pac-10) know what it will take to make the No. 3 Trojans (20-2, 5-0) leave the Los Angeles Tennis Center with their first loss since Feb. 19.
“It’s just going to come down to us having to execute, be very competitive and really be ready to fire … because nothing but our absolute A-game is going to win (today) against the Trojans,” coach Billy Martin said.
In the two teams’ last meeting on March 2, UCLA lost the doubles point en route to a 5-2 loss. This time around, the doubles matches will be nothing like they were before, as Martin has since changed the Bruins’ doubles lineups and expects to see different Trojan doubles teams.
“A lot of times it’s just matchups and style and how particular teams match up against certain styles, so I really don’t know what to think, quite honestly,” Martin said of today’s doubles matches.
While the doubles point provides momentum for the rest of the match, it is a singles showdown that will provide the most intriguing subplot. Freshman Daniel Kosakowski will look to hold his own against USC junior Steve Johnson, the country’s top-ranked player, on court No. 1.
Johnson beat Kosakowski 6-2, 6-2 in March, but Kosakowski, who is ranked No. 34 nationally, isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself. He said he has become more comfortable with the college game since his loss to Johnson and won’t be intimidated by the competition.
“I have nothing to lose … so I’ll be free to go up for my shots. I’ll be playing pretty loose, but other than that, it’s the same mindset going into every match,” Kosakowski said. “Just play my best, hopefully get the W.”
Both Johnson and Trojan senior Jaak Poldma, ranked No. 35 in the country, take perfect 19-0 dual match play records into the match.
While the Trojans have the accolades, the Bruins have shown that they are also a foe to be reckoned with.
After losing its first two conference matches, UCLA has won three Pac-10 matches in a row, which are part of the team’s current five-match winning streak.
Another asset the Bruins will benefit from going into today’s match is the two-fold motivation of their leader Amit Inbar.
As a senior going into his final match against USC and half of the No. 2 doubles tandem which has lost its past two matches, Inbar has plenty of incentive to perform well.
“I know that I’m going to give everything and spit blood on the court just to get the win against ‘SC,” Inbar said.