Rivalry games are always special. They’re those games that are circled on the calendar before the season and are denoted as must-win games.
They’re games that have an NCAA Championship-type atmosphere, even though they are only regular season matches.
This circumstance arises as the No. 5 UCLA men’s tennis team (20-2, 6-0 Pac-12) is set to travel downtown to take on its archrival, No. 1 USC (25-0, 6-0).
Both teams will be putting their 6-0 Pac-12 conference records on the line, with the winner locking up the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Championships later this month.
After taking a 6-1 beating in their last matchup in February, the Bruins have only one thing on their mind: revenge.
“Growing up, if I ever lost to an opponent, next time I would play them I’m even more fired up, just wanted to beat him even more,” freshman Marcos Giron said. “It’s obviously one thing to beat a guy, but it’s another thing to beat a guy who beat you the last time, especially when it’s your rival like USC.”
Sophomore Clay Thompson also has a keen memory of the Bruins’ experiences against their rival.
“We haven’t beat them since I’ve been here,” Thompson said. “There’s definitely a factor of revenge, but it’s probably more than that. They’re the three-time defending champions. It’s a bigger sense of revenge than just beating us the last time. We want to show that they’re not all they’re hyped up to be and that we can be a threat to them.”
The team would love to be able to hand USC its first loss of the year in the season finale.
“It would be an amazing confidence booster. It would probably really put us there at the top, mentally,” redshirt junior Alex Brigham said. “I think that if we can take out USC this week, we’d have a really, really good shot at winning the whole thing this year.”
Their coach, however, does not want his team to put so much stock into one match.
“Within a week, we have to probably think about battling them again and they’re going to be really fired up to play us,” coach Billy Martin said.
“Yes, we would love to win, and I think it would be a good way to show us that our hard work is paying off and probably make the guys believe more so that they’d have a decent chance to win the NCAAs, but I don’t think we want to hang our whole season on what happens on Friday.”