The No. 1 UCLA men’s tennis team is on a mission. For the past four years, the Bruins have been forced to watch their crosstown rivals hoist the national championship trophy. But this time around, UCLA is the Pac-12 favorite to win it all—and there’s no way it’s going to slip away.
The Bruins took the first step down a long postseason road yesterday in the Pac-12 Championships semifinal from Libbey Park in Ojai. UCLA’s first victim was the unassuming Stanford Cardinal, who went silently into the night after a 4-0 sweep in favor of the country’s top-ranked team.
UCLA (23-1) got off to a quick start in the doubles round, claiming a drama-less 8-1 decision on Court 3 from standout performers Dennis Mkrtchian and Clay Thompson. Then, after the 8-3 clincher on Court 2, doubles play was suspended and the Bruins took the early 1-0 lead.
In singles, UCLA cranked up the intensity and handled its business in a breeze. The Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead after redshirt freshman Karue Sell posted a domineering 6-1, 6-0 win at Court 5. After a 6-2, 6-4 win from Marcos Giron and a 6-2, 6-0 decision in favor of Thompson, UCLA waltzed into the conference finals without breaking a sweat.
The decisive victory, coupled with USC’s win over Cal in the other semifinal, set up a fourth meeting between the hated Los Angeles rivals. The Bruins hold a 2-1 record over the Trojans in 2013, but the one ‘SC win is the lone blemish on the UCLA schedule this season.
The two teams last matched up in the regular-season finale at the LA Tennis Center, which saw the Bruins claim a 4-3 win and the Pac-12 title. Now, with another championship on the line, UCLA will try to keep its 14-match winning streak alive and sweep the conference crowns.
But be warned, this should be a fierce battle. All three of the previous meetings ended with 4-3 scores, and each one was a nail-biter. In February, when the Trojans edged the Bruins at the ITA National Indoors in Seattle, five of the six singles courts went three sets. The match-clinching point for Southern Cal even came by way of a third-set tiebreaker, just to put the intensity over the top.
If the Bruins can improve to 3-1 versus the Trojans today, they should take the No. 1-seed into May’s NCAA Regional in Westwood. And assuming another strong outing there, UCLA could be in prime position to take the cake at the NCAA team finals in Champaigne, Ill. next month.
Go Bruins! Beat SC!