ATHENS, Ga. — The rain, the five-hour delay and the pressure.
In the end, it was too much for UCLA men’s tennis to handle.
The No. 5-seeded Bruins (22-6) lost 4-2 to the host, the No. 13-seeded Georgia Bulldogs (22-7) Saturday night, ending UCLA’s NCAA Tournament run in the quarterfinal for the second consecutive year.
“It was a great college match, I thought we played really well. Doubles went our way and we started out well in singles,” said coach Billy Martin. “Most of these college matches are a bit of a roller coaster ride. Still, I’m proud of my guys – without our captain, our No. 1 player on the year, to be where we got is a good testimony to how hard we played.”
UCLA started with the momentum after getting off to a quick lead in doubles.
Junior Martin Redlicki and freshman Evan Zhu, the second seed in the upcoming NCAA individual doubles championship, lost 6-3 to the top-seeded pair of Jan Zielinski and Robert Loeb at court one, but UCLA clinched the point following wins on courts two and three.
Senior Joe Di Giulio and junior Austin Rapp fought back from an early break to beat Emil Reinberg and Nathan Ponwith 6-3. At No. 3 doubles, sophomore Maxime Cressy and freshman Ben Goldberg broke on their opponents’ second service game, and rode that advantage until they won 6-4.
But without senior Gage Brymer at the top of the lineup, the Bruins fell short in singles. Two days after defeating the 49th-ranked player in the country, Zhu fell in straight sets to the 33rd-ranked player, Wayne Montgomery.
Then there was the rain.
Junior Logan Staggs was serving on a no-ad point in the second set when the rain struck, and he said his opponent came out of the delay more aggressive and prepared.
“The next game (after the delay), Emil came out swinging and had a better game plan,” Staggs said. “I think if the rain didn’t stop the match, I would’ve been able to pull off the second set sooner.”
The main culprit for UCLA, however, was its play at the bottom three singles courts – Georgia won each to clinch the win.
In the only singles rematch from the teams’ first meeting, Rapp lost to Walker Duncan in straight sets again. Rapp fought off a match point after the rain delay but eventually lost a tiebreaker 7-2 as Duncan put his team up 2-1.
Di Giulio had a chance to serve for his first set up 5-4 on court six, but the Bulldogs’ Loeb broke and eventually won the set in a tiebreaker. The Bulldog freshman then broke Di Giulio three consecutive times in the second set and won the match 7-6(4), 6-2.
“I absolutely think that the turning point was not getting that first set at No. 6 singles when we were up,” Martin said. “I really think it changed the momentum a little bit in the match. We would’ve gotten four first sets and instead, we had only gotten three. It gave Georgia a lot more hope to be in the match and feel like they could win it.”
At No. 4 singles, Cressy again relied on the serve-and-volley to win his first set, but he couldn’t convert on the momentum and dropped the second. Georgia’s Zielinski broke the Frenchman three times, and served out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win that sent the Bulldogs to the semifinal.
UCLA’s lone singles point came courtesy of Redlicki, who pulled out a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 win over Georgia freshman Ponwith at court one. The win was a turnaround from the junior’s previous match, a straight-set loss to Texas A&M’s Arthur Rinderknech.
“Today I came out and I was making a lot more first serves, which was crucial for me in getting that first set,” Redlicki said. “Against Rinderknech, I felt like my first serve was struggling a little bit, hit some double faults on some key deuce points and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that I had.”