Tearing himself away from the raucous crowd in a match oozing with emotion, Amit Inbar savored his last victory against his archrival, with his teammates and coach on court in front of the Bruin faithful.
The victory was a touching personal moment for the senior captain, but Inbar’s effort, along with some stellar play from some of his teammates, was not enough as the UCLA men’s tennis team ended its regular season with a 4-3 loss to USC in front of a packed Los Angeles Tennis Center on Friday.
“(It was) one of the best tennis atmospheres I’ve ever experienced,” Inbar said. “Obviously, the USC and UCLA match attracts a lot of people, but (Friday) was special.”
The Bruins’ struggles in doubles came back to haunt them against the No. 3 Trojans (21-2, 6-0 Pac-10), with No. 9 UCLA (16-6, 3-3) dropping decisions at courts No. 1 and 3, while the tandem of Inbar and sophomore Warren Hardie gave UCLA a chance at stealing the doubles point with an 8-6 victory over USC’s Emilio Gomez and Steve Johnson.
With USC taking the early lead, UCLA knew it would have to come out firing in singles. Despite a loss at court No. 1, which quickly put the Bruins at an 0-2 deficit, they quickly struck even with an impressive victory from freshman Clay Thompson, who dominated USC junior Daniel Nguyen, the No. 38 player in the nation, for a 6-3, 6-2 victory. Thompson’s win was followed by a hard-fought 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory from Inbar over senior Jaak Poldma, the No. 35 player in the nation.
With the match tied at two points apiece and UCLA freshman Adrien Puget leading by a set and a break on court No. 4 over freshman Raymond Sarmiento, UCLA’s chances quickly crumbled. Puget lost his lead, and Sarmiento turned the match around for a three-set victory. This was followed by a three-set loss on court No. 5, which saw UCLA senior Holden Seguso lose to Gomez in a match-clinching win for the Trojans.
“We should have won this match in my opinion,” coach Billy Martin said. “We had our chances, and I want my team to win those matches when they have the opportunity to close them out.”
The Bruins lost to the Trojans for the second time this season, but there was no questioning UCLA’s effort. The Bruins showed tremendous grit and determination and placed themselves a few points here or there from a season-defining victory.
“I thought it was definitely a good effort, but we are just not winning at the crucial time,” Thompson said. “We took a step in the right direction playing well against ‘SC, but with that being said, we have the talent to be an elite team and beat top teams like USC.”
With the season over, Pac-10 Championships begin Thursday and will decide individual conference titles, and NCAA regional qualifying begins in May. Martin is confident about his team’s chances the rest of the year.
“We will give ourselves a chance in every match we play,” he said. “We are a dangerous team, and nobody can take us lightly.”