After dropping their 2017 season opener against Utah State last week, UC Irvine men’s tennis (0-2) could not find their footing and fell 6-1 to the #10 ranked USC Trojans (3-0) on Saturday at Marks Stadium, with their only point coming from junior Sebastian Heim’s victory at number one singles.
Heim missed the final month of last season and was derailed in the fall due to an injury that kept him out of all but one tournament during the fall slate.
“That match was really big for Sebastian,” said head coach Mike Saunders, “Because he’s been hurt, he’s been sick, he really hasn’t been healthy since last February. He’s still a little rusty, so to come out and get that win for him we’re going in the right direction.”
The ‘Eaters fought valiantly in the doubles matches, nearly coming away with the point. Heim and sophomore Mason Hansen were broken early by the USC duo of freshmen Brandon Holt and Riley Smith, but rallied to make it 5-4 before the Trojans closed it out. Sophomore Vatsal Bajpai and freshmen Derek Chen held off USC on court three, 6-4, leaving the doubles point in the hands of junior Luca Marquard and freshman Bruce Man-Son-Hing.
Trojan senior Nick Crystal and sophomore Laurens Verboven were able to edge Marquard/Man-Son-Hing in a tiebreaker set 7-6 (7-4) to gain the 1-0 advantage.
USC turned up the gas for the singles matches, taking commanding leads in flights two through six. No. 114 in the nation junior Thibault Forget finished off Chen in flight three, 6-0, 6-0, while fellow Trojan sophomore Jack DeVine handed Bajpai a 6-1, 6-1 loss in number four. Sophomore Jack Jaede knocked off Hansen in number five 6-2, 6-1, to clinch the match, while No. 88-ranked Crystal was too much for Marquard at flight two and came away with the 6-1, 6-0 victory.
Man-Son-Hing was the only ‘Eater besides Heim to win more than two games in a set, but ultimately fell 6-2, 6-4 to Henry Ji.
Heim was in prime position to prevent the team sweep at the end of his first set with #28 sophomore Logan Smith, displaying his power and shot-making ability to take the first stanza 6-3. Smith charged back to take the second set 6-1 following some impeccable shots of his own. Heim hunkered down, fighting through hip discomfort, to take the first four points of the tiebreaker and six of the first eight, and went on to secure the match 6-3, 1-6, 1-0 (10-4).
Smith was the second ranked Pac 12 opponent that Heim has taken down this school year, after prevailing over #118 Sameer Kumar of Stanford in the ITA’s in October.
Despite the final tally, the ‘Eaters were able to come away with a sense of validation after vying for the doubles point and leaving with the flight one singles victory against a top-10 team.
“We were competitive,” said Saunders. “We had a chance to win the doubles point so hopefully the take-away is those guys are good, and we need to improve and get better. But were not as far away as some of the guys may have thought.”
UCI’s next chance to capture their first win of the year comes at Anteater Stadium on February 3rd as they welcome UC San Diego.