The No. 1 UCLA men’s tennis team didn’t take long to justify its recent climb to the top of the college tennis rankings, downing No. 5 USC handily on Saturday to win the Pac-12 tournament.
After a first-round bye on Friday, UCLA defeated Stanford 4-0 in the semifinals. They then went on to beat the USC Trojans for the third time this season 4-2, getting revenge on the team that beat them in last season’s conference championship game.
“Winning is one of the best feelings, and winning the tournament and regular season title is the reason why we are practicing hard every day, so we’re all really proud of each other,” said junior captain Adrien Puget.
The Bruins lost the doubles point and sophomore Marcos Giron was the first to fall in singles, but coach Billy Martin was glad his team was able to stay poised and come back like it has many times before.
“We didn’t make a big deal about not winning the doubles point,” Martin said. “Winning last Friday in a similar way helped us a little bit, giving us that inner confidence that we knew we could come back from down 2-0.”
Many players said they played with more of an edge this season against USC because they were tired of being dominated in the Los Angeles rivalry in the two previous years. Martin attributed some of UCLA’s success in the rivalry to a loss of USC players, but he also believes that his squad matches up well with the Trojans – particularly with the addition of redshirt freshman standout Karue Sell.
“Luckily they lost a couple great players, but I also think we match up with them pretty well especially in singles, and getting Karue Sell this year has made a big difference,” Martin said.
But after experiencing several years of frequent losses against the Trojans, junior Clay Thompson attributes the team’s success against its rival this season to a sense of urgency that comes with a desire for revenge.
“We really have been on the losing side of this rivalry for the past two years,” Thompson said. “It’s really kind of just pissed us off so we just have been really fired up to get them back.”
After the match, Thompson, who won 7-6, 6-4 on Saturday, said he thought it was important that players believed in each other and knew that each Bruin would try to step up.
“I think it was really just staying positive,” Thompson said. “To get the wins from courts 3, 4, 5 and 6 is a real testament to how well-rounded we are as a team and that we can get the points, some way, somehow.”
The team set plenty of goals to start the season, and Martin was pleased to say that they have reached every one so far.
“We’re very proud of ourselves to have won both the regular season and the tournament,” Martin said. “We are a really hungry and determined team, and our guys really embraced the challenge of being the No. 1 team in the nation.”