UCLA thumps Ohio State 4-2
Bruins come up big in doubles with two upset victories
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA and USC will meet for the fourth time this season in Monday's semifinals, as the fourth-seeded Bruins and top-seeded Trojans both registered quarterfinal victories on Sunday at Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex. UCLA (26-3) advanced with a 4-2 victory against No. 5 Ohio State.
"Another incredibly great college tennis match," said UCLA head coach Billy Martin, who has now led the Bruins to the semifinals 11 times in 19 years as head coach. "I thought we had a chance to win some of the matches at the back of the lineup, and luckily it happened. Winning four singles matches is difficult, but we were able to sneak in three. It was a great win for us. Ohio State is always very physical, they compete well and they always come prepared to play."
UCLA stunned Ohio State in doubles play on Sunday, coming from behind to upset two higher-ranked teams at court Nos. 1 and 2. After the Buckeyes notched an 8-4 win at the No. 3 spot, the Bruins found themselves needing to win the remaining two matches to pull off the point. UCLA's 85th-ranked Nick Meister and Dennis Mkrtchian kept the Bruins in it when they beat 32nd-ranked Devin McCarthy and Ille Van Engelen, 8-1 at court No. 2. The deciding point came down to court No. 1, where UCLA's 44th-ranked Alex Brigham and Adrien Puget faced the daunting task of having to upset top-ranked Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola. The match was on serve until the Bruins were able to break Buchanan for a 6-5 lead. After Brigham held for 7-5, Rola subsequently held his serve to make it 7-6 UCLA. With the match on Puget's racket, he came through in the clutch, serving it out to give UCLA the 8-6 win and the doubles point. Puget managed to fight off two break points in that final game.
"That was a huge win for us in doubles, especially to win No. 1 over the top-ranked team in the country," said Martin. "Alex Brigham and Adrien Puget were our No. 1 team last year and they came up with some big wins. I didn't have them together for the first two-thirds of the season, but we added a new player and I put them back together and they've had some great wins. It wasn't a huge surprise that they won their doubles match, but I can't say that I was counting on it."
The doubles point was big for UCLA, which now only needed to win three singles matches to pull off the win. Singles play started off extremely close, with each team winning three first sets. The Buckeyes would actually take a 2-1 lead after registering straight-set victories from Connor Smith and Buchanan at court Nos. 6 and 1, respectively.
UCLA, however, was in control at three of the remaining four courts. The only OSU lead came at the No. 2 spot, where Meister had surrendered the first set to Rola. A pair of Bruin freshmen put UCLA on the board in singles, as both Marcos Giron and Novikov posted straight set wins to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead. Novikov beat Peter Kobelt, 6-4, 6-0 at court No. 3, while Giron was a 6-4, 6-4 winner against McCarthy at court No. 4.
At the time of Giron's victory, Meister had just split sets with Rola at court No. 2, and Puget was up a set and in a tight second set with Hunter Callahan at court No. 5.
With Puget on the verge of possibly closing it out, a crowd began to form around his court. Both players held serve to send the match to a tiebreaker and, just as he did in doubles, Puget came through again, winning the tiebreaker 7-0 for an eventual 6-3, 7-6(0) win to send UCLA into the semifinals.
"He looked very tired to me and that's not normal for him," said Martin of Puget. "He's usually the leader of our team as far as energy and closing out matches. By the time I got up there it was 4-3 and he looked spent. I thought after the doubles match that he might be low on energy if his singles match went long. He played someone who didn't compete in doubles and that can sometimes be a plus to not compete in doubles with the heat, the intensity and the competitiveness of the NCAA tournament. I was a little worried about that, but Adrien was able to keep his composure and shorten up the points a little bit."
UCLA is the only team to beat USC this season, posting a 4-3 victory on April 20 at USC. The Trojans, however, beat the Bruins twice this year, winning 6-1 in Los Angeles on Feb. 29 and 4-2 in the Pac-12 Tournament final on April 28.