No. 3 UCLA avenges ITA loss with 4-3 nail-biter victory against No. 2 USC
LOS ANGELES -- After suffering a 4-3 loss to USC in the semifinals of the USTA/ITA National Team Indoors on Feb. 17, third-ranked UCLA returned the favor on Friday, downing the second-ranked Trojans 4-3 at the Marks Tennis Stadium on USC's campus.
With the win, UCLA moved to 10-1 on the season, while USC fell to 12-2.
With Friday's dual match tied at three, Bruin sophomore Marcos Giron clinched the win for UCLA, as he downed Emilio Gomez, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(3) at court two. Gomez served for the match up 5-3 in the third set, however Giron was able to break and then hold for a tie at five. The two players then held serve until the tiebreaker, where Giron took it 7-3.
"I've never experienced two matches in a row that were so close," UCLA head coach Billy Martin said. "I really believe that [Friday] was crucial for us to make sure that we didn't lose to them twice in a row. I think if we had lost this match it could've been detrimental to the team. This win gives us a lot of confidence moving forward. It's just really amazing."
Similar to its loss to USC at the National Team Indoors, UCLA managed to win the doubles point on Friday, taking wins at courts two and three. After Adrien Puget and Karue Sell notched an 8-3 victory against Max De Vroome and Roberto Quiroz at court two, the Trojans answered right back with an 8-5 win of their own at court one. That left things up to Alex Brigham and Dennis Mkrtchian to clinch the point for UCLA at the No. 3 spot, as they downed Gomez and Eric Johnson, 9-8 (1) to give the Bruins a 1-0 advantage heading into singles play.
In singles action, 12th-ranked Ray Sarmiento quickly tied the match at one when he downed Bruin sophomore Dennis Novikov 6-4, 6-3 at court one. The two players met at the No. 1 spot a week ago, with Novikov taking a three-set victory against Sarmiento at the Indoors.
The Bruins went ahead 2-1 with a consecutive-set victory of their own, as Puget downed Quiroz 6-3, 6-2 at court two. It was a big win for Puget, who lost to Quiroz in a third-set tiebreaker in the clinching match last week in Seattle.
The two teams traded wins the rest of the way, with USC getting victories from Yannick Hanfmann and Eric Johnson, while UCLA received victories from Mkrtchian and Giron.
Although Giron got the clinching win for the Bruins, Mkrtchian's play on Friday did not go unnoticed by Martin.
"I gave our game ball to Dennis [Mkrtchian]," Martin said. "It was hard not to give it to Marcos [Giron], who obviously had a great match, but Dennis [Mkrtchian] and Alex [Brigham] won a huge tiebreaker in doubles to give us the point. He also had a big comeback after losing the first set in singles. He just energized us. I was really proud of him."
The two teams will meet again on April 19 at UCLA in what could be another classic showdown between the two cross-town rivals.
"How much closer can you get?," Martin said. "To be honest, I can't come away from this win thinking we are better. I know it's going to be a will of minds each time these two teams play. Whoever plays better at the end of the match is going to win. It's as close as I've seen the UCLA-USC rivalry in all my years of coaching."