Joe Di Giulio knew what was coming.
As Stanford’s Maciek Romanowicz rocked back and tossed the ball up to serve, Di Giulio shifted half a step to his left. The serve was originally aimed at his chest but instead found the neon green strings of Di Giulio’s racket. The junior roared as he ripped his forehand return down the line, and all Romanowicz could do was meekly watch the ball as it bounced, hit against the fence, and rolled away.
“I was thinking forehand before the return,” Di Giulio said. “I was like, ‘If I get a forehand here, I’m just gonna go big.’ The ball came there, and I just trusted in my shot and luckily it turned out well.”
The ball also took with it any chance of a comeback, as Di Giulio’s return was the final point of his 7-6(5), 6-2 victory that cemented No. 5 UCLA men’s tennis’ 4-1 triumph over Stanford. After losing the doubles point for the second time in three matches and the second time against the Cardinal (10-7, 2-1 Pac-12) this season, the Bruins (15-2, 3-0) recovered to clinch four consecutive singles matches.
“I was again really disappointed with the doubles – we played very poorly against them last time up there in doubles, and quite honestly we didn’t play that much better this time,” coach Billy Martin said. “Singles-wise, I’m happy. I really felt after we lost the doubles point, we had to win at least one or two on the back courts to have a chance to win the match.”
Although UCLA emphasizes getting off to quick starts all season, it again started a match down 1-0 after losing in doubles on courts two and three.
“The number one thing that killed us in the doubles was double faulting,” Martin said. “We were up a break at court two, and (senior) Karue Sell threw in three double faults in one game to give it back. We just can’t do that. When you’re up, you gotta make them earn it. Don’t give it to them with double faults or easy unforced errors – it’s just unforgivable.”
Like the Bruins’ first dual match against Stanford, singles play was back and forth throughout. With junior Mackie McDonald uncharacteristically struggling on court one against Stanford’s No. 6 Tom Fawcett – at one point slamming his racket on the ground, garnering a point penalty – and courts two and three in dogfights, UCLA needed its back three singles players to rally the team.
Sophomore Logan Staggs and Sell answered the call.
Each won their match in straight sets, with Sell improving his dual match record to 13-0, the only undefeated Bruin in singles play. On court two, sophomore Martin Redlicki capitalized on the momentum shift to come back from a 2-5 deficit in the second set to defeat Stanford’s No. 56 David Wilczynski 7-5, 7-6(4).
“Having solid players at every spot in the lineup just helps you stay confident and helps you stay loose, so it’s huge,” Redlicki said. “It lets us all go for our shots more. If you have in your mind that you have to win this match because the other guys are gonna lose, then you start playing a little more tentatively and you start making a few more mistakes.”
The school band and a large home crowd also boosted the Bruins, a reversal of the raucous crowd that they encountered earlier in the year in Palo Alto.
“There was a lot of energy – any time we have that band here, it’s like a magnet for people to come and stick their heads in the stadium and see what the heck’s going on and watch a little bit, so I thank them first of all,” Martin said. “It’s always fun for the guys to have a crowd to support them and cheer them on.”
The win, combined with Cal’s loss earlier in the day to USC, leaves UCLA alone top the Pac-12 rankings.