For winning a regional, Vanderbilt’s reward was to face UCLA, the top seed in the NCAA men’s tennis team tournament.
The Commodores (18-10) take on the powerful Bruins (26-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Illinois courts in their round-of-16 match.
“Somebody is going to win the tournament, and our feeling is, why not us,” VU coach Ian Duvenhage said Tuesday before he and his team left for Illinois. “It’s exciting. We’re starting off playing the top ranked team in the country in prime time, and we are going give it our best shot.”
The last time Vanderbilt met UCLA was the 2003 national semifinals in Athens, Ga. Vanderbilt, which won the SEC tournament that year, pulled off a 4-3 upset in a grueling six-hour match. Tied 3-3, it came down to No. 2 singles where Vanderbilt’s Chad Harris fought off two match points and clinched the victory with a thrilling 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 victory over Marcin Matkowski in a rain-delayed match.
Vanderbilt, which had knocked out No. 2 seed Baylor the day before, then lost a heartbreaking 4-3 decision to Illinois in the final and finished 27-4.
That arguably was Vanderbilt’s best men’s tennis team.
UCLA’s current squad boasts some heavy credentials.
The Bruins have lost only to cross town rival Southern Cal 4-3 in the Team Indoors in Seattle Feb. 17. They have won 17 straight since. They avenged that loss five days later with a 4-3 win over USC then beat the Trojans again in the finals of the Pac 12 tournament two weeks ago.
Top 25 players Dennis Novikov and Marcos Giron at No. 1 and 2 singles, respectively, lead the Bruins. They will take on Vanderbilt’s No. 1-2 players, No. 10 ranked Ryan Lipman and lefty Gonzales Austin.
“It is a huge opportunity for us,” Austin said. “[UCLA] will clearly be favored, but we are playing at very high level lately, and we’re ready to take them on.”
Both Lipman and Austin have invitations to the NCAA singles tourney, which opens May 22.
• The Vanderbilt men’s golf team will open play in the NCAA Regionals Thursday in Tempe, Ariz., a three-day tournament which runs through Saturday. Vanderbilt’s seventh-place SEC finish was its best since 2007.
• With a third-place Regional finish at Stanford, Calif., last week, the Vanderbilt women’s golf team has qualified for the NCAA tournament, starting May 21 in Athens, Ga. Vanderbilt, making its fourth straight trip to the national championship event, led at Stanford after the first day, and easily qualified for the national meet.