Disappointing skid continues for men’s tennis

USC was unable to get back into the win column against rival UCLA in home match.

Senior Niroop Vallabhaneni struggled against UCLA, falling alongside graduate Samuel Rubell and alone against Bruin senior Jorge Plans Gonzalez in straight sets. The 6-foot senior transfered from Duke before this season. (Robert Westermann / Daily Trojan)

A Friday afternoon matchup against their crosstown rival offered a potential fresh start for the slumping Trojans, who began the day on a five-match losing streak. USC enjoyed beautiful conditions and an enthusiastic crowd when they took the court to face the No. 28 UCLA Bruins. 

Following a tough first weekend of conference play — during which the Trojans (5-11, 0-2 Pac-12) were swept by Arizona (17-3, 3-1 Pac-12) and were unable to finish a match against ASU (13-7, 1-1 Pac-12) because of poor weather — USC was hungry for a win.

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“Playing UCLA, your rival, you have high expectations,” said Head Coach Brett Masi in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “[The] expectation is always to try to win this match.”

High expectations aside, the doubles point was a hard-fought battle in itself. Trojan junior Peter Makk and senior Lodewijk Weststrate quickly defeated the first UCLA (8-6, 1-2 Pac-12) doubles pairing of redshirt junior Timothy Li and junior Giacomo Revelli (6-2).  However, on court two, Bruin freshman Spencer Johnson and redshirt freshman Emon van Loben Sels won their match against USC graduate Samuel Rubell and senior Niroop Vallabhaneni (3-6).

The first point of the match came down to third doubles, with USC freshman Voldomyr Iakubenko and junior Karl Lee eventually falling to redshirt senior Govind Nanda and junior Alexander Hoogmartens (5-7).

The Trojans entered singles play trailing 0-1. UCLA’s lead was extended to 2-0 when senior Jorge Plans Gonzalez won his match on court six against Vallabhaneni in straight sets (1-6, 5-7).  

Shortly after — at second singles — USC’s Weststrate provided a bout of optimism when he came back from his first-set deficit to beat Revelli in a gritty, well-earned victory (2-6, 6-0, 6-2).  Weststrate’s tenacious win put the Trojans on the match scoreboard at 2-1.  

Momentum proved to be hard for USC to hold onto, though. On court three, USC’s Iakubenko was defeated in an exciting match sealed by a searing ace from UCLA’s Johnson (6-7, 5-7, 6-4), pushing the Bruins’ lead to 3-1 with three singles matches still in progress.  

Despite saving one match point, it was Lee’s loss to Hoogmartens at fourth singles (6-1, 5-7, 4-6) that clinched the match 4-1 for UCLA. 

Lee had started well and cruised through his first set, but in the second set, Hoogmartens elevated his play to swing the match back in his favor.  

“We kept them in the matches and kept them fighting,” Masi said. “Eventually it got to a point where [Hoogmartens] changed the level of his game and it was a bit too much for Karl, unfortunately.”

Makk and Nanda’s first singles match was suspended in the middle of a tiebreaker in the second set. Rubell was up in the third set against UCLA sophomore Gianluca Ballotta when play stopped.

Even given their recent results, the team is determined to head into a new month of conference play.

“It’s obviously been a very frustrating year, one that’s below our expectations and standards,” Masi said. “We just have to get better and keep fighting … We have a handful of Pac-12 matches [left] and we have to go out and try to perform and get [wins].”

The quest for improvement continues for the Trojans Friday at 5 p.m. when USC visits Bill Quillian Tennis Stadium to take on Washington (7-10, 1-2 Pac-12) in a conference matchup.

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