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Extending historic losing streak between rivals, UCLA men’s tennis falls to USC

Coach Billy Martin of UCLA men’s tennis watches a match. Following another loss to USC on Wednesday, Martin’s Bruins still have yet to top the Trojans since April 2019. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's Tennis

No. 11 USC4

By Alexsia Drulias

April 20, 2023 3:39 p.m.

A Trojan-filled stadium was enough to disrupt the Bruins’ win streak.

UCLA men’s tennis (12-8, 3-4 Pac-12) fell 0-4 to its crosstown rival, No. 11 USC (15-7, 5-2), Wednesday at Marks Stadium. The matchup marked the Bruins’ second-to-last conference contest before the Pac-12 tournament, and the loss dropped them below .500 in conference play, good for sixth place.

Surrounded by the sound of Trojan cheers, freshman Gianluca Ballotta and junior Timothy Li were the only two members of the team to tally a set on the scoreboard. Ballotta said being able to snag an early lead in his singles match was all about fostering hope among his teammates.

“I really try my best to get the first set because I knew that my teammates were looking at the scoreboard,” Ballotta said. “I knew it was going to give them hope. I gave it my all and took the first set.”

Ballotta added that the support of his teammates on the sidelines was vital given the environment.

“It’s great support to have, especially here,” Ballotta said. “A crowd against you can be tough sometimes, but if you have your teammates cheering for you, it’s very nice.”

Though the freshman has only been with the Bruins since January, he has quickly become one of the team’s key assets. Amid all the adjustments he’s had to make since his arrival in Los Angeles, Ballotta has put up seven dual-singles wins for the team, leaving six matches unfinished. Coach Billy Martin knows how resilient the freshman has been during the transition and saw promise with the 7-5, 4-1 lead Ballotta held over USC’s No. 120 Bradley Frye before the stoppage of play.

“Such a different situation for him coming here from Peru – from sleeping to dietary, whatever it is,” Martin said. “Just a big adjustment throwing him into the wolves right away with team matches. Although he didn’t close it out, it certainly looked like he was going to win. That’s gotta give him confidence, and he’s a big part of our team.”

Ballotta isn’t the only player anticipating the Bruins’ last match at home against Utah on Saturday. Li said he’ll be looking to be more physical and stay mentally tough, both of which he demonstrated Wednesday by reversing the outcome of his first set in the second.

“I didn’t play great the first set, and I knew I had another level to get to, so I just stayed the course and kept fighting,” Li said. “It ended up going my way in the second.”

The matches on courts one, two and three had all concluded before Li was able to move past a 1-1 tie in the third set, but even as the outcome grew more in favor of the Trojans, Li said he remained unaffected by the scoreboard.

“I pretty much stay mentally on my court,” said Li. “I look at the scores a lot, but I don’t let it affect the way I’m playing. (I) Do the work that I can and try to help the team as much as possible.”

In failing to secure a point against USC for a third consecutive time, UCLA has now been swept in all three regular-season matches between the two rivals for the first time since 1999. The shutout extended the Bruins’ losing streak against the Trojans to eight, marking the longest streak that either team has held over the other – also since 1999.

In that eight-match stretch, UCLA has rarely even come close to upending USC, getting outscored 34-7 and only earning three points once on Feb. 28, 2021.

Martin knows the shutout was no fun for his players, but continues to pursue an optimistic agenda.

“If we get a fourth chance against ‘SC, we’ll certainly try.”

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Alexsia Drulias
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