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Men’s tennis’ Keegan Smith falls in finals to USC in weekend tournament

Junior Keegan Smith was UCLA men’s tennis’ only player to travel to the Oracle ITA Masters in Malibu, California. Over the four-day tournament, Smith advanced to the final round, where he bowed out to USC’s Daniel Cukierman in three sets. (Xuxin Zhang/Daily Bruin)

By Andreas Papoutsis

Sept. 29, 2019 11:38 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this headline incorrectly stated that Keegan Smith fell in the semifinals. In fact, Smith fell in the finals.

This post was updated Sept 30 at 11:37 a.m. 

Junior Keegan Smith fell to a crosstown rival in an early preseason showdown.

Smith was the lone representative from UCLA men’s tennis at the Oracle ITA Masters held in Malibu, California. Over the four-day tournament that began Thursday, Smith advanced to the final round before falling to USC’s Daniel Cukierman on Sunday. Smith also competed with UCLA women’s tennis’ Abbey Forbes in the tournament’s mixed doubles play, where the pair recorded a semifinal appearance.

“It’s super cool because I love Southern California and it’s where I’m from,” Smith said. “It’s beautiful out here, the crowd is cool and it’s a fun atmosphere.”

Smith started his tournament run with two straight-set wins, eliminating Alabama State’s Alexis Collard 6-2, 6-2. He followed up his first round performance with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Grand Canyon’s Lorenzo Fucile to advance to the quarterfinal of the tournament.

“These tournaments are extremely important from a coaching standpoint and from a player’s standpoint to see where you’re at with the rest of the college field, especially early in the season,” coach Billy Martin said.

Smith went on to face Illinois’ Alex Brown for a spot in the final. Despite recording a 6-4 win in the first set, Smith surrendered a 3-6 defeat in the second, leaving the match to be decided in a third set.

“I think he’s got to be a little bit more cognizant of keeping the pedal to the metal,” Martin said. “He needs to finish strong until the last point is earned.”

Smith earned the semifinal victory, winning the third set 6-1.

His victory pitted him against childhood friend, now crosstown rival, Daniel Cukierman in the championship match. Smith said the rivalry taking place in the final was a great experience.

“It’s super cool and I’m sure it’s great for the fans,’’ Smith said. “Me and Daniel are good friends though, so it’s not crazy like that, but I think it’s great for the Pac-12.”

After recording a 6-2 win in the first set, Smith fell behind and surrendered the second. Smith was unable to pull out a third set win, and fell to Cukierman 6-2, 3-6, 4-6. Smith said improving on his overall fitness will be a point of focus this fall.

“Well look at (Cukierman), man. He’s ripped,” Smith said. “He can stay in matches longer than me and that’s something that I need to keep working on.”

Meanwhile, Smith and Forbes recorded victories in their first two matchups of doubles play to advance to the semifinal of the mixed doubles draw. The pair lost their subsequent match, failing to secure a spot in the final.

The Bruins will prepare for the Aztec Fall Invitational hosted at the Aztec Tennis Center in San Diego from Friday to Sunday.

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Andreas Papoutsis | Sports reporter
Papoutsis is currently a Sports reporter on the men's tennis beat. He was previously a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Papoutsis is currently a Sports reporter on the men's tennis beat. He was previously a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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