Martin Redlicki knew his lob was good.
He raised his arms the moment he struck the ball, and his opponent, USC’s Nick Crystal, didn’t even look back as it fell a foot in front of the baseline.
Redlicki, who was up a set and 6-2 in the second-set tiebreaker, then turned to the crowd and gestured for them to get loud. On the next point, the junior fired a background return just out of Crystal’s reach.
Game, set, match, UCLA.
Redlicki’s 7-6 (9), 7-6 (2) win cemented a 4-1 victory for No. 8 UCLA men’s tennis (18-4, 6-0 Pac-12) over No. 6 USC (22-5, 5-2) Friday, which clinched the No. 1 seed for the Bruins in the Pac-12 tournament next week.
“Coming down the stretch in a match like this, everyone’s going to be feeling jittery and some nerves, and I would say I was a little bit,” Redlicki said. “But when I got back to five-all and got it back to even after getting broken at 4-3, I had a lot of confidence going into the tiebreaker.”
The Bruins not only had confidence heading into singles play, but also momentum after clinching the doubles point for the first time this season against the Trojans. And just like coach Billy Martin predicted Wednesday, his top team led the way. Redlicki and freshman Evan Zhu defeated USC’s Brandon Holt and Riley Smith 6-3, the No. 12-ranked UCLA duo’s first win against them in three tries.
Then on court two, senior Joe Di Giulio and junior Austin Rapp won their third consecutive match – all since Di Giulio returned from an arm injury – to put the Bruins up 1-0.
“We came out really well in doubles, especially at No. 1 – those guys from the first point on looked really, really sharp. Getting Di Giulio in there was huge for us at No. 2 doubles with Rapp,” Martin said. “In singles, courts one, two, three and four really came out with fire. They all got the first sets, which really sets a good momentum and puts a little pressure on the opposing team.”
Zhu and junior Logan Staggs, on courts three and four respectively, both secured early breaks in the first sets and were the first two singles courts to finish. Zhu, who lost his first matchup against No. 79 Logan Smith in March, returned the favor with a 6-2, 6-4 victory that put UCLA up 2-0. Minutes later, Staggs followed with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Jack Jaede.
In the two teams’ previous dual matches this season, Staggs lost in three sets to Jaede and was one game away from winning another three-setter. On Friday, the junior said his return game was the difference.
“Last two times, I feel like he used his serve to control most of the points. I got some critical breaks in the first and second sets, where I was the one dictating and he was the one on defense,” Staggs said. “I knew he was going to serve a lot to my backhand to get me off the court, so I was working with (volunteer assistant coach) Rikus de Villiers this week, hitting some backhand returns and it came through.”
On the other courts, Rapp lost in straight sets to Thibault Forget at No. 5, Di Giulio was down 7-5, 6-6 to Riley Smith at No. 6, and senior Gage Brymer split the first two sets against USC’s Brandon Holt at No. 1.
The last two matches were not finished because once Redlicki lifted his arms in triumph, the only number on the scoreboard that mattered was the four next to UCLA.