The intensity and emotion was palpable as host USC beat UCLA 5-2 Wednesday in a match where neither team was willing to give up without a long, hard fight.
“To have a freshman come through like Emilio is a big statement,” said USC coach Peter Smith. “He became a man against Stanford when he was down set points and came back and won. He continued that today.”
The Trojans (10-2) started doubles play down on all three courts, but would make a comeback to win 3-0 against the Bruins. Freshman Ray Sarmiento was back in the lineup with partner junior Steve Johnson after missing some play with a wrist injury that is still healing.
“Steve and I were just saying, we’ve got to make them play,” Sarmiento said. “Make them beat us. It went our way and we won.”
Johnson was visibly excited to have his teammate and partner back on the court with him. Although the pair started off down a break, they eventually rallied.
“I was excited,” Johnson said. “I know his wrist has been bothering him, but he’s a fighter. He’s going to give us our best chance to win. He put the team first, and that’s a big thing.”
Also in doubles play, senior Jaak Poldma and sophomore J.T. Sundling fought back against the Bruins’ Adrien Puget and Holden Seguso to win 8-6. Sundling, who suffered knee pain during his singles match against Seguso, fell 3-6, 2-6.
The Trojans’ dominance in doubles play was the nail in the coffin for the Bruins, who could never quite regain their momentum.
“I felt like if we won doubles, we would be good to win the match,” Smith said.
Still, the Bruins were aggressive and came to battle on the singles side, but USC went 4-2, with its only other singles loss from Nguyen in straight sets. Nguyen lost 4-6, 2-6, to Amit Inbar.
Johnson raked in a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Kosakowski to maintain his recent No. 1 national ranking.
“It’s exciting,” Johnson said. “I’ve worked hard this year and I think it was a goal of mine to get back to the top and keep it rolling from here.”
Poldma won his match against UCLA’s Clay Thompson 6-2, 6-3, and continued to show his veteran consistency and calm.
Even after the match had been decided, Sarmiento played on into a third set tiebreaker after being down 3-6, and coming back 6-4. He beat Puget 10-7 to take home the victory.
“I just told myself I wasn’t going to lose,” Sarmiento said. “No matter if we won the match or not. I wanted to have some pride. During singles I was not feeling well. I thought there was no way I was going to win this match, but I just kept sticking with it.”
Beating UCLA might technically be just another victory, but it is undoubtedly much more than that to USC.
“We haven’t beat them here since I’ve been here, so it was good for us to really go into the second half of our season with a big win against first Stanford and now UCLA,” Johnson said.