Third time was still not the charm for Stanford.
UCLA men’s tennis had lost the doubles point in each of its first two matches against Stanford this season, but the Bruins quickly stopped the bleeding each time by dominating in singles, winning eight points in total while only dropping two en route to 4-3 and 4-1 victories.
Despite another early deficit this time around, No. 1 seed and regular season conference champion UCLA (21-2, 8-0 Pac-12) again swept singles play and defeated No. 4 seed Stanford (14-10, 4-4) 4-1 in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal on Friday.
“Our guys took the doubles defeat well and put it behind them,” said coach Billy Martin after the match. “This was as good a match as we’ve had all year as far as everybody looking really focused from the start, winning all six first sets in singles. We really took charge and sent a message to Stanford that dropping doubles didn’t bother us.”
While the doubles result was disappointing, Martin said he was happy with his team’s resiliency. Ranked No. 2 in the nation, the Bruins’ singles play is peaking at the right time. No. 92 senior Karue Sell – wearing an ankle brace for an injury suffered on Sunday – rebounded from his first dual match loss of the season to clinch UCLA’s first point with a straight set victory over Stanford’s Nolan Paige. The match was also Sell’s 100th career singles win.
“During the fall, I thought it would be pretty cool to get to 100, but I had so many matches to do it and I hadn’t won that number of matches since my freshman year,” Sell said. “But I started playing so well at the beginning of the season in January, and once I got to 10 or 15, I knew I had a shot at it.”
Juniors Joe Di Giulio and Mackie McDonald followed Sell with straight set victories of their own. No. 10 McDonald’s handling of Stanford’s No. 12 Tom Fawcett on court one especially stood out considering the two battled to a third set in their previous matchup before the match was called.
“I definitely played better today (compared to last time against Fawcett),” McDonald said. “I don’t want to say I played unbelievable tennis, but I did what I had to do to get the win. I made more returns and he hit more errors today than last time.”
No. 55 junior Gage Brymer earned the Bruins’ final point on court three with a 6-2, 6-4 win over the Cardinal’s No. 77 David Wilczynski.
“We’re very excited to advance – it’s one of our four major goals every year,” Martin said. “We want to go undefeated at home, win Pac-12 regular season, win the conference tournament, and then the NCAA championship. Tomorrow we have a chance to attain the third of our four goals.”
UCLA will take on No. 16-ranked and No. 3-seeded Cal – who upset No. 2 seed USC 4-1 – Saturday evening for the Pac-12 tournament and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament in May.