The Bruins are once again Pac-12 champions.
After falling to the Trojans in the 2017 Pac-12 championship final, No. 1-seeded UCLA men’s tennis (26-2, 8-0 Pac-12) defeated No. 3-seeded USC (17-8, 6-2) on Saturday to take home its second conference title in three years.
“It’s very special,” said coach Billy Martin. “I told the guys to just remember how lousy it felt last year after losing that heartbreaker (and) let that be our motivation, and I think everybody really responded well to that.”
Doubles set the tone for the Bruins to open the match.
After senior Austin Rapp and freshman Keegan Smith fell to Jack Jaede and Laurens Verboven 6-2 on court two, junior Maxime Cressy and freshman Bryce Pereira evened the doubles score with a 6-3 win on court three over Daniel Cukierman and Tanner Smith.
The point came down to court one.
Senior Martin Redlicki and sophomore Evan Zhu trailed 5-2, but won five straight games to clinch the doubles point with a 7-5 victory over Brandon Holt and Riley Smith.
When UCLA faced USC back in February, Redlicki and Zhu were on the verge of a similar comeback, but the match went unfinished.
“I told Evan (that) we’ve been here before (and) this match is far from over,” Redlicki said. “I played a couple of really clutch points and Evan played a couple of really clutch points and it went our way.”
The Bruins’ strong start continued into singles as UCLA took home five first sets.
“(Doubles) really got us fired up,” Martin said. “That was crucial.”
Redlicki was first to grab a singles win, defeating Holt 6-3, 6-4 on an ace on court one.
Cressy quickly followed on court five to grow the Bruins’ lead to 3-0 as he took down Riley Smith 6-1, 6-4.
While fans were gathered at the upper courts, freshman Connor Hance looked to clinch the championship down at court six – and he did just that.
Hance secured his first set 6-4 over Jake Devine and capitalized in the second to win 6-4 and claim the title.
“I saw everyone crowd around my court toward the end – I tried to keep my composure as best as I could,” Hance said. “(When) I won and they all stormed the court, it was almost surreal.”
The postseason will continue for the Bruins as they begin the first round of the NCAA Tournament on May 12.
“Knowing that we’re one of the teams to beat in the country gives a lot of the guys confidence,” Redlicki said. “We all know that we’ve got one more ahead of us.