Urbana, Ill. - If there was ever a question of how close a team can come to an NCAA title and not actually win it, the top-seeded UCLA men's tennis team answered that question on Tuesday, as the Bruins suffered a gut-wrenching, 4-3 loss to second-seeded Virginia in the championship match at the University of Illinois' Khan Outdoor Tennis Center. One minute, UCLA (29-2) was within a point of tying Stanford for the second most NCAA tennis titles with 17. The next, the Bruins were watching the Cavaliers storm the court to celebrate their program's first. One thing's for sure, the University of Illinois played host to one of the greatest NCAA tennis finals in history. Unfortunately, it didn't go UCLA's way.
"I thought we had it," said UCLA
head coach Billy Martin, who was looking for his second NCAA title after leading the Bruins to the championship in 2005. "It's hard to imagine we were that close and didn't get it. We were right there, match point. I will replay it 100 times between now and tomorrow. But we will get over it. It's not the end of the world. We will recover."
With the match tied at 3-3, Tuesday's showdown ultimately came down to a battle at court No. 3, where Bruin captain Adrien Puget and Virginia's Mitchell Frank each had their team's national championship hopes rested solely on their shoulders. Puget looked fanstastic in the first set, cruising to a 6-0 victory. Frank was able to work his way back in the match in the second, serving it out up 5-4 to tie the match at one set apiece. The two players then traded breaks early in the third, however Puget made his move in the seventh game, breaking Frank for a 5-3 lead. Now serving for the match, Puget got ahead in the game 40-30. That's when the drama unfolded. With a match point in hand, Puget worked Frank deep into the corner on a high, backhand volley. Frank barely got a racket on it, however before the point ended, the chair umpire called a violation on Puget for touching the bottom of the net with his foot. Frank got the game back to deuce, eventually breaking Puget to get the final set back on serve. The momentum took a big swing in Virginia's favor at that point, as Frank held for 5-5 and ended up breaking Puget in the very next game. Frank got up 40-0 in the final game, and despite Puget's effort to save two match points, Frank would convert the third, falling on his back in celebration as his teammates piled on.
"If he touches the net and the umpire sees it, you have to call it," added Martin. "It's a tough pill to swallow in this particular match given the importance. It is what it is. It's not like we want (the umpire) to let it go. I know I wouldn't if I was in their shoes. I give Frank credit for hanging in there. It was still deuce. It's not like that one point decided the match. I think it was a fair call."
The Bruins got down early in Tuesday's contest, surrendering the doubles point to go down 0-1 heading into singles play, as the Cavaliers took victories at court Nos. 1 and 3 to lock up the point. Puget and teammate Karue Sell were the bright spot for UCLA
in doubles, moving out to a 7-4 lead at court No. 2. Virginia, already with an 8-2 win at court No. 1, clinched the point when Justin Shane and Julen Uriguen downed Alex Brigham and Clay Thompson, 8-5 at court No. 3.
UCLA got off to a solid start in singles, however by only winning three first sets, it became apparent early on that someone was going to have to come from behind to win.
After Shane downed Thompson, 6-2, 6-2 at court No. 5, UCLA answered right back with a pair of wins of its own, tying the dual match score at 2-2 with wins at court Nos. 2 and 4. Marcos Giron pulled off a huge upset at the No. 2 spot, where he beat second-ranked Alex Domijan, 6-4, 6-4. Giron is ranked 25th in the ITA singles rankings. Sophomore Dennis Mkrtchian, the nation's 75th-ranked player, followed that win by registering an upset of his own, beating 28th-ranked Mac Styslinger, 6-4, 6-3 at court No. 4.
Virginia would take the battle of No. 1's, as third-ranked Jarmere Jenkins outlasted 27th-ranked Dennis Novikov, 7-6(3), 6-3 at court No. 1. The Cavaliers now owned a 3-2 lead, meaning that UCLA would need to take the remaining two matches.
At the time of Jenkins' win, Frank was serving to stay in the match, up 5-4 in the second set at court No. 3, while Sell was up a break, 5-3 in the second and looking to send it to a third at court No. 6. Sell would move out to a 5-1 lead over Uriguen, eventually breaking serve to close out the deciding set, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Sell's win focused all attention on court No. 3, where Frank and Puget had their dramatic finish.
#3 Virginia 4, #1 UCLA 3
May 21, 2013 at Urbana, IL (Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex)
1. #4 Jenkins/Styslinger (UVA) def. #42 Giron/Novikov (UCLA) 8-2
2. #77 Puget/Sell (UCLA) vs. #21 Domijan/Frank (UVA) 7-4, unfinished
3. #89 Shane/Uriguen (UVA) def. Alex Brigham/Thompson (UCLA) 8-5
Virginia Wins Doubles Point
1. #3 Jarmere Jenkins (UVA) def. #27 Dennis Novikov (UCLA) 7-6(3), 6-3
2. #25 Marcos Giron (UCLA) def. #2 Alex Domijan (UVA) 6-4, 6-4
3. #39 Mitchell Frank (UVA) def. #22 Adrien Puget (UCLA) 0-6, 6-4, 7-5
4. #75 Dennis Mkrtchian (UCLA) def. #28 Mac Styslinger (UVA) 6-4, 6-3
5. Justin Shane (UVA) def. #119 Clay Thompson (UCLA) 6-2, 6-2
6. Karue Sell (UCLA) def. Julen Uriguen (UVA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
Virginia 30-0; National ranking #3
UCLA 29-2; National ranking #1
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (5,2,4,1,6,3)