UCLA women’s tennis had been there before.
Facing Georgia and California earlier in February, UCLA fell just short of completing the comeback.
But that changed Friday in Malibu.
Against No. 18 Pepperdine (4-3), freshman Terri Fleming held her ground and executed her game plan, leading No. 11 UCLA (8-2) past the Waves 4-3 with a wire-to-wire three-set victory.
Although looking for a win after a loss to the Golden Bears, the Bruins started off sluggishly, allowing the Waves to snatch leads on all three doubles courts. Pepperdine would close out the doubles point with a pair of 6-3 victories, leaving UCLA with a 1-0 deficit.
“We came out intimidated and scared,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “We had a conservative mentality and they played aggressively. That was the difference in doubles.”
The Waves continued to pressure the Bruins and grabbed the early lead on four of six singles courts.
Juniors Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips gave UCLA the edge with a 2-1 lead after losing just four games apiece in straight-set wins.
Meanwhile, senior Robin Anderson, the nation’s No. 3 singles player, struggled in her return to singles play, losing to No. 30 Lorraine Guillermo, 6-4, 6-3.
Over on court five, senior Kaitlin Ray dropped her singles match to leave the Bruins in a 3-2 hole and put the match in the rackets of fellow senior Chanelle Van Nguyen and Fleming.
After dropping the first set on both courts, Van Nguyen and Fleming rallied to extend their matches into crucial third sets.
In her third straight three-set match, Van Nguyen stormed back after her opponent took the first set to win the next 11 games en route to a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 win.
“After the first set, my nerves went away,” Van Nguyen said. “I started to play my game more.”
With their teammates cheering from the sidelines, Fleming and her opponent engaged in a back-and-forth slugfest. Down 5-4 in the third set, UCLA’s lone freshman in singles play said she knew she had to keep her cool and continue hitting aggressively – something she had failed to do against Georgia on Feb. 7.
“I wanted to stay calm,” Fleming said. “Against Georgia, I was too passive and was hoping she would miss. Yesterday, I believed in myself.”
Fleming’s belief in her game and coolness under pressure allowed her to win her first three-set match of the season and seal the match for the Bruins with a 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory.
UCLA hosts crosstown rival No. 4 USC (10-1) in a critical Pac-12 matchup Wednesday. The Trojan team features six ranked singles players, including former NCAA doubles champion Sabrina Santamaria. The Bruins say that although the stakes rise in a rivalry match, they approach each opponent with the same mentality, aiming to combine high intensity, mental toughness and crisp execution to go for the win.