It was all on the final singles match. The score was 5-3, 40-30 in the third set, match point for junior Adrien Puget.
The team captain hit a volley that went unreturned by Virginia’s Mitchell Frank. The first Bruin men’s tennis title since 2005 was within reach. But one call from the umpire changed that, and in the blink of an eye, it slipped away from UCLA. One second they thought they had it, and the next they didn’t.
“Well, the bottom line is we had match point, we thought we had won it. The umpire thought he touched the net on a volley, I didn’t see it but you can’t argue it. To be in that situation and then to lose it is heartbreaking,” said coach Billy Martin.
“The bottom line is, great match. Our guys played well, we didn’t play great doubles today, but we played our hearts to come back.”
The call that changed it all was that Puget’s foot had touched the bottom of the net, thus yielding the winning point and sending the game to deuce. Shortly thereafter, Puget lost the match in what was an excruciating 4-3 loss for the UCLA men’s tennis, ending the season 29-2.
“Well obviously the goal was to win the whole thing,” said sophomore Marcos Giron. “And it’s tough especially since we were one point away and it was a tease since we thought we won it.”
The Bruins were faced with a deficit from the start, falling behind 2-0 quickly, after they lost the doubles point and the first singles match but eventually put themselves within reach of a win.
Redshirt freshman Karue Sell was a huge factor, much like he was against Ohio State in the semifinals. After losing the first set, he fought back to win to move the Bruins to a 3-3 tie with Virginia. This put the fate of the tournament in Puget’s hands, and unfortunately for the Bruins, they were unable to complete the comeback.
But Puget’s teammates know that the loss will not deter him from coming back strong in future seasons, even as heartbreaking as it was.
“Obviously it was very emotional for everyone. Adrien wanted it as bad as anyone else,” said sophomore Dennis Mkrtchian. “This will only make him stronger and motivate him for next season.”
Giron and fellow sophomore Dennis Novikov, along with Puget, will now compete in the NCAA Individual Championships, which begin on May 22.
“I definitely knew that my match was very important. We lost the doubles point and I knew that we could do a good job in the bottom courts (4, 5 and 6). I just stayed strong throughout the match, and after I got up in the third set I knew I could pull it off, and I trusted Adrien to finish the match, unfortunately it didn’t happen. We were almost there,” said Sell.
“After I won we were in position to win. (Adrien) had a match point and the judge made that terrible call. I was basically running already to celebrate, after that it went downhill from there.”