Top-seeded UCLA overpowers Duke, advances to NCAA semifinals
URBANA, Ill. -- Top-seeded UCLA posted its fourth consecutive shutout of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, downing No. 9-seed Duke 4-0 in a quarterfinal showdown at the University of Illinois' Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. UCLA (28-1) advanced to Monday's semifinals, where it will face No. 5-seed Ohio State (35-2).
"We've had two good wins now," UCLA head coach Billy Martin said. "[Duke] is a team at the beginning of the year I knew was going to be a great team. They had beaten us the last time we had played them and that was still in our minds. We are just excited to be moving on."
UCLA got off to a great start in Saturday's match, claiming the doubles point with a pair of upsets at court Nos. 1 and 2. Sophomores Marcos Giron and Dennis Novikov, ranked No. 42 in doubles, downed the nation's No. 2 team of Henrique Cunha and Raphael Hemmeler 8-6 at court No. 1. UCLA's Adrien Puget and Karue Sell followed up with an upset at the No. 2 spot to clinch the point, beating 19th-ranked Michael Redlicki and Jason Tahir 9-8(5). The 77th-ranked Puget and Sell made things interesting in the tiebreaker, moving out to a 6-0 lead before losing the next five points to make it 6-5. They closed it out on the next point, however, giving UCLA a 1-0 lead heading into singles action.
Duke (22-6) far from rolled over after losing the doubles point, as the Blue Devils won four first sets in singles action, meaning that UCLA was going to have to pull out a third set for any hope at a victory.
The only match that was rather one-sided on the afternoon came at court No. 6, where Sell cruised past Tahir, winning 6-0, 6-2 to give UCLA a 2-0 lead.
The other spot where UCLA appeared to be in good shape was at court No. 1, where 27th-ranked Novikov was facing Cunha, who is ranked No. 9 nationally. After winning the first set 6-4, Novikov was able to break Cunha for a 5-4 lead in the second. He capitalized on his opportunity in the very next game, serving out the match for a 6-4, 6-4 win, which put the Bruins ahead 3-0.
"That match at No. 1 was huge for us," Martin said. "That was probably Novikov's best win. We know he is dangerous, but [Cunha] is so solid. He just happened to have one of his best matches of the year and we needed it [Saturday]. To beat Cunha both in singles and doubles in the same day is a great accomplishment for our guys."
Novikov said, "Every match that I've played throughout the year I've kept improving and I try to peak around this time. I thought I played pretty well. I served really well. It was just a solid match overall. Everyone did a great job from bottom to top. We were in every match and we just felt confident the way everyone was playing [Saturday]."
At the point of Novikov's victory, UCLA was down a set at three of the four remaining matches. However, Puget was beginning to pull away from Redlicki in the third set at court No. 3. Puget, who won just one game in the first set, battled back to win the second 6-2 before working his way to a 5-1 lead in the third. Puget held his serve in the final game to register a 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 win and send UCLA to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
Monday's match will be a re-match of last year's NCAA quarterfinals in Athens, where UCLA beat Ohio State 4-2.