UCLA Dumps the Aggies
The Bruins got off to a shaky start against the tenth-ranked Aggies. UCLA has been strong in doubles play in the latter half of the season; in fact, the Bruins entered Friday's contest having won the doubles point in ten straight matches. But UCLA's doubles teams stumbled out of the gate against Texas A&M.
On courts 1 and 3, the Bruins were down a service break early, and each fight back seemed to be followed by another service break. Meanwhile, on court 2, Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips took care of business, winning their duel 8-3. When Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady succumbed on court 1 (5-8), the fate of the double point rested with the result on court 3. Chanelle Van Nguyen and Terri Fleming rallied towards the end, but their comeback fell short (6-8), giving the Aggies the first point of the match.
Singles play was moved indoors as the weather in Waco continued to disrupt the action. With only three courts available, the top three singles players from each team played their matches first. Jennifer Brady and Chanelle Van Nguyen played particularly well, with each earning 6-3, 6-2 victories. On the top court, Robin Anderson lost her first set but came racing back to dominate in the final two. Her 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 win gave UCLA its third point of the day with three singles matches left to be played.
In the second set of singles action, Catherine Harrison took the first set 6-1 while Kyle McPhillips and Kaitlin Ray both lost first sets on their courts. Although the second set was much tighter, Harrison eventually clinched the Bruins' fourth point and match winner with a 6-1, 7-5 victory on court 4.
The win over the Aggies improved UCLA's record to 21-4 in 2015 and earned the Bruins a quarterfinal match with #2 North Carolina.
UCLA in the ITA Rankings
What to Expect
As the tournament's second-seeded team, the Tar Heels probably expected an easier quarterfinal opponent. UCLA and North Carolina are quite evenly matched: both teams have top-level talent, depth, and experience. There's every reason to believe that this will be an extremely tight match, similar to what we saw when these two teams met in last year's final.
In my opinion, there are three key battles to watch today. The doubles point is very likely to decide the winner, which means that Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady need to improve on their performance from the round of 16. In singles, Kaitlin Ray has to deliver; if her slump continues, the Bruins could be in trouble. And on the top court, Robin Anderson needs to confirm her #1 national ranking by beating a very tough opponent.
As the Bruins proved on Friday, they can win indoors if the weather doesn't cooperate, and they won't panic if they fall behind. I expect that this match will go the distance before it's decided.
Prediction: UCLA advances to the semifinals with a 4-3 win over North Carolina.