The UCLA men’s tennis team entered singles play against No. 4 USC with a sense of urgency.
Having just lost a tight doubles point, the No. 3 Bruins needed to win four of the next six singles matches to clinch a victory.
And with LATC exploding with roars from UCLA fans, that’s exactly what the Bruins did.
Firing on all cylinders, the Bruins claimed the victory after taking the next four singles matches, winning the Pac-12 regular season title in the process.
“I was really upset about the doubles, and I expressed to them that I was not happy with how we came out and played,” said coach Billy Martin. “To think that we were going to go out and step on them as well as we did … I wouldn’t have believed it quite honestly, I thought we were in for a dogfight with those matches.”
The Bruins won 4-3, finishing the regular season with a 22-1 overall record, and a perfect 7-0 in conference play.
Key to the Bruins’ victory, as they have been for many games this season, were sophomores Dennis Novikov and Marcos Giron.
After claiming a victory in their doubles match, the pair easily won their respective singles matches.
Strong serving played a crucial role in UCLA’s victories in the singles matches, especially for Novikov, who kept the pressure on Ray Sarmiento of USC in his 6-4, 6-2 win.
“I served really well today. The serve was the big thing about (the win), when you have easy games on your serve it makes the return games a lot easier,” Novikov said. “I definitely mixed up my serve a lot, and I didn’t give him much rhythm either.”
Juniors Adrien Puget and Clay Thompson also nabbed big victories for UCLA, with each dispatching his opponents in straight sets. Puget was able to bounce back after losing a close contest in doubles with redshirt freshman Karue Sell, and followed up with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Yannick Hanfmann of USC.
“We should have won at the end of the doubles I felt, and so the wrong thing to do is to come out pissed off out there,” Puget said. “I put that on the side and in the past, and I tried to come out in singles strong mentally.”
This was the third contest against the Trojans this year. The Bruins took the last two meetings 4-3 after losing the first match 4-3.
But the team didn’t allow itself to revel in the season’s accomplishments for too long.
UCLA now has its sights set on the Pac-12 championships in Ojai, Calif. next week, but with the long-term goal of pursuing an NCAA championship in May always on its mind.
“Oh my god, it’s fantastic,” Giron said of the win. “It gives us a lot of confidence heading into the postseason, and hopefully getting to achieve our final goal of winning the NCAAs.”