The ball arced high into the cloudless sky, and Karue Sell raced toward the baseline in pursuit. He seemingly overran the ball, then suddenly stopped and smashed the ball between his legs down the sideline.
“Come on!” yelled the senior, as he triumphantly pumped his fist.
The point was one of many bright spots for Sell this past week. Although he fell 6-7 (2), 6-4, 3-6 in the final to top seed Max de Vroome of USC, the third-seeded Sell turned in an impressive performance throughout the Southern California Intercollegiate Championships.
“It was important I got five matches in a row – good matches. I played pretty good tennis this week, so I’m not sad about the result,” Sell said.
After not losing a single set in his first four matches, Sell faced a considerably tougher opponent in de Vroome. Sell held his own in long rallies and pushed the Trojan to three sets, but a combination of unforced errors and de Vroome’s tough service game was too much for him to overcome.
“He was serving really well for two and a half sets, and I couldn’t really do anything on his serve, but I adjusted a little bit,” Sell said. “I was making more returns at the end, but I just didn’t play a good service game in the last set. It was just a couple points here and there that went the other way.”
In a back and forth two hour match, Sell and de Vroome combined for more than 10 breaks, yet neither was able to pull away from the other. During the first set, Sell led 4-1 and 5-4 but couldn’t capitalize on multiple chances to break de Vroome, allowing de Vroome to win in a tiebreak 7-2.
“I thought (Sell) played pretty well at times,” said associate coach Grant Chen. “I think he needed to capitalize on some opportunities, being up a break in the first, second and third sets.”
— UCLA Men’s Tennis (@uclatennis) November 2, 2015
Sell maintained the momentum from his between-the-legs trick shot to win the second set behind a dominating serve, punctuating the set with an ace and an emphatic shout. In the third set, however, de Vroome rode his service game to come back from a 3-2 deficit and win 6-3.
“I was trying to stay close and get my chances because it’s hard to break (de Vroome),” Sell said. “I was just trying to stay solid and stay in the match and take my opportunities.”
Overall, four Bruins made the quarterfinals of the tournament, despite three of the team’s top players being held out for injuries or other obligations.
“It’s good for them to be out there playing a lot of matches, just to get a feel. There’s still a long way until (the NCAA Tournament in) May and even to the start of the team season in January,” Chen said. “It is a really good tournament – it’s an important tournament for the guys to get a lot of matches under their belt.”
For Sell, he’s satisfied with his performance this weekend.
“It was a good tournament for me. I had a very tough week with school, and I was pretty fatigued in the first match,” Sell said. “But I got my game going, and I was playing well.”
Compiled by Hanson Wang, Bruin Sports contributor.