Marks Tennis Stadium was filled with fans buzzing with anticipation as Martin Redlicki tossed the ball in the air.
USC’s Nick Crystal had previously saved a match point against the sophomore, giving the Trojans a sliver of hope that they could overcome the Bruins’ 3-2 lead.
It didn’t happen.
Redlicki pounded a serve down the sideline and followed it up with two cross-court forehands that clinched a three-set victory and UCLA’s 4-2 triumph over USC.
“In the third set I noticed I was slowing down my swing a little bit on my forehand and stopped moving my feet at times,” Redlicki said. “I just told myself I gotta rip through every ball and penetrate the court with my shots and it’ll hurt him a lot.”
With the win, the Bruins (20-2, 7-0 Pac-12) swept the Trojans (15-5, 5-2) this season and cemented a Pac-12 regular-season title, UCLA’s first since 2013. The victory was especially sweet, considering USC swept the season series last year.
“It was a great win for us, and it gives us momentum going into our Pac-12 conference tournament next week up in Ojai,” said coach Billy Martin. “We’ll have to get by an extremely tough Oregon or Stanford team in the semifinals on Friday to possibly get a chance to play either USC or Cal, but it keeps us in a positive mind frame.”
UCLA continued its trend of fighting back from early deficits in doubles to clinch the opening point behind wins from the No. 4 pair of junior Mackie McDonald and Redlicki, as well as senior Karue Sell and junior Joe Di Giulio. After losing back-to-back doubles points against Stanford and Cal, the Bruins have won four straight.
“Karue and I have been playing really well in doubles, so it’s good to get another one,” Di Giulio said. “USC’s number two team’s pretty good so we had to play well, but we were happy with how it went. The extra confidence we have right now – I think it’s giving us that extra edge.”
Playing alongside the women’s team in doubles during the doubleheader provided additional motivation for the Bruins.
“It was great, it was super interesting,” said junior Gage Brymer. “I think it created a really cool atmosphere where we had both the girls and guys going on at the same time, and it brought out more fans.”
The fans were treated to a dogfight once singles play started. USC tied the match when No. 86 Sell suffered his first dual match loss of the season, 2-6, 0-6, to Jake DeVine. However, thanks to what Martin said was the best match from No. 58 Brymer, this season and an aggressive onslaught from Di Giulio, UCLA clinched the next two singles points in straight sets to go up 3-1.
“Against Robbie (Bellamy), I’ve always had trouble – this was actually my first win against him in college,” Di Giulio said. “I think I’ve lost to him three times, so there was kind of maybe a little mental block, but in the first set, I just came out rolling.”
For now, the Bruins are back on top of Pac-12 and Los Angeles supremacy. The win also all but ensured UCLA will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament next month at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
“We’ve had good team efforts from almost all of our Pac-12 matches,” Redlicki said. “It’s just gonna be a matter of executing like we have been to this point of the season. As long as we keep executing, I think we’re golden.”