No. 4 Men's Tennis Defeats Ole Miss, 4-1
Athens, Ga - The fourth-seeded UCLA men's tennis team lost the doubles point but still managed to come back in singles play on Friday, registering a 4-1 victory over No. 13 Ole Miss in the NCAA Round of 16 at Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex. With the win, the Bruins (25-3) move on to Sunday's quarterfinals where they will meet No. 5 Ohio State (34-3) at Noon (EST). The Buckeyes beat No. 12 Florida, 4-1 on Friday.
"As I expected, it was a really tough battle," said UCLA head coach Billy Martin. "Before the draw was made, you kind of have a feeling of three teams you might play and the one team I didn't want to play was Mississippi. We had to play them in the last match of the regional for the final 16 last year, and quite honestly, we were very lucky to win. We squeaked it out. I know (Ole Miss Coach) Billy Chadwick and his teams fight like heck. They're always in good shape. I just knew it was going to be a really difficult match for us."
UCLA got off to somewhat of a slow start in doubles, dropping the point for just the eighth time in 28 matches this season. Although UCLA suffered an 8-5 loss at court No. 1, the Bruins were still in contention at the remaining two courts, serving at 6-5 at court No. 2 and tied at 8-8 at court No. 3. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Mississippi's Johan Backstrom and William Kallberg took an early lead in the tiebreaker at the No. 3 spot and never looked back, eventually winning 7-4 to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead heading into singles play.
UCLA was able to shake off the loss in doubles and came out with added intensity in singles play, eventually taking first sets on all six courts. It didn't take long for sophomore Adrien Puget tie the match, as he downed Backstrom, 6-1, 6-2 at court No. 3 to make it 1-1. The victory extended Puget's winning streak to 21 matches, improving his singles record to 26-2 on the year. He is also 23-1 in dual matches.
Next to finish was court No. 4, where Giron avenged his doubles loss to Kallberg with a 6-2, 6-4 victory, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead. Playing right next door at court No. 3, freshman Dennis Novikov then brought UCLA within a point of clinching the match when he beat Jonas Lutjen, 6-4, 6-2 to make it 3-1.
Although the Bruins owned the lead, Ole Miss was still very much in it, as all three remaining matches were in third sets. Courts No. 1 and 2 were extremely close; however UCLA freshman Dennis Mkrtchian worked his way to a 5-2 lead against Chris Thiemann at court No. 6. That's where it would eventually end, as Mkrtchian posted a 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2 win to send UCLA into the quarterfinals.
"Losing that doubles point put us in a deep hole," added Martin. "We had been really strong at 4, 5, and 6 all year and they came through for us, especially 4 and 5. They got us back on the board and gave us some confidence. Dennis (Novikov) probably played his best match. He's only been with us since the beginning of April, but what better time to do it than today."
UCLA and Ohio State last met in the 2009 NCAA Quarterfinals, a 4-3 Buckeye win.
"We've had tough battles with them," said Martin. "Ty's (Ohio State coach Ty Tucker) got a great record going and his teams are always very physical. They generally play very good doubles and are very aggressive. We'll give it our best shot in the doubles and go out and compete in all the singles."
NCAA Round of 16
#4 UCLA 4, #13 Ole Miss 1
May 18, 2012 at Athens, GA (Dan Magill Tennis Complex)
1. #13 Lutjen/Scholtz (MISS) def. #44 Alex Brigham/Puget (UCLA) 8-5
2. #85 Meister/Novikov (UCLA) vs. #17 C. Thiemann/M. Thiemann (MISS) 6-6, unfinished
3. Backstrom/Kallberg (MISS) def. Giron/Warren Hardie (UCLA) 9-8(4)
Ole Miss Wins Doubles Point
1. #62 Clay Thompson (UCLA) vs. #14 Nik Scholtz (MISS) 7-6(8), 2-6, 2-2, unfinished
2. #16 Nick Meister (UCLA) vs. #20 Marcel Thiemann (MISS) 6-3, 4-6, 2-2, unfinished
3. Dennis Novikov (UCLA) def. #45 Jonas Lutjen (MISS) 6-4, 6-2
4. #84 Marcos Giron (UCLA) def. #83 William Kallberg (MISS) 6-2, 6-4
5. #46 Adrien Puget (UCLA) def. Johan Backstrom (MISS) 6-1, 6-2
6. Dennis Mkrtchian (UCLA) def. Chris Thiemann (MISS) 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2
Ole Miss 15-8; National ranking #13
UCLA 24-3; National ranking #4
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (5,4,3,6)
UCLA advances to face Ohio State in NCAA Quarterfinals