It’s about 29 miles between the campuses of UCLA and Pepperdine in Southern California.
Three time zones away in Athens, Marcos Giron and Alex Sarkissian played Monday for much more than local bragging rights.
UCLA’s Giron rolled past Pepperdine’s Sarkissian 6-4, 6-1 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex for the NCAA men’s tennis singles title, needing less than 75 minutes to claim the title.
Giron, the No. 2 seed, became the 11th UCLA player to win the men’s singles title.
“To become a part of such an exclusive group of champions is such an honor,” Giron said.
Meanwhile, Danielle Collins gave Virginia its first NCAA women’s singles championship with a 6-2, 7-5 victory against California’s Lynn Chi.
The two native Floridans had faced each other in junior play. The sophomores hugged after their match that came on the final day of NCAA tennis in Athens, drawing an attendance total 15,089 over 12 days.
Giron, a junior, put himself in position for a wild card entry into the U.S. Open this summer in New York for NCAA winners who are Americans, something he had said was a “huge goal.”
He said all of those hours of training made it a reality.
“I cannot wait to play in the main draw of the U.S. Open,” he said. “I’ve played in the qualifying once, but to play in the main draw is another story.”
The junior from Thousand Oaks, Calif., became the Bruins’ first men’s NCAA winner since Benjamin Kohlloeffel in 2006.
Giron “is the hardest worker I’ve had in my 31 years coaching at UCLA both as an assistant and head coach,” said coach Billy Martin, who won the NCAA singles title in 1975 for UCLA. “He is as physically fit as any kid I’ve seen in college tennis. I knew this tournament would give him a good opportunity because it really is an endurance contest.”
Giron won the first set after getting the only break of the set to take a 3-2 lead and dominated the second set.
“He just was fitter than I was today,” Sarkissian said. “He was the better player. There was nothing I could do. … He outlasted me today.”
Sarkissian, a transfer from Glendale (Calif.) Community College, said he was affected after going three sets in his semifinal win.
Giron noticed Sarkissian wasn’t changing directions well, so he wanted him to move from side to side during the match.
Giron himself was fatigued after advancing in a 64-player draw in the heat and humidity. Temperatures were in the mid 80s on Monday.
He was also bothered by some minor pain in his quadriceps and his back.
Collins became the first unseeded player to win the NCAA women’s singles title since California’s Suzi Babos in 2006.
When the final point off Chi’s racket sailed out, Collins ran to hug Virginia head coach Mark Guilbeau and assistant Troy Porco.
She transferred to Virginia a year ago after a freshman season at Florida, and Guilbeau said she put in some “serious, serious work,” starting in September in Charlottesville that paid off on Memorial Day in Athens.
Collins went down a break in the first set to the 24th-ranked Chi, but Chi had trouble holding serve in the first set as Collins ran out to a 6-2 first set win. Chi led 3-1 and 5-3 in the second before Collins won the match’s final four games.
“She played really well at the end, she hit some nice shots,” Chi said. “I made a few errors. I had one game where I hit four balls around the tape area.”
Collins is quite expressive on the court, yelling her satisfaction when an opponent’s shot goes long or when a forehand winner kisses the line.
“Once I got down, I just got really angry and was like, ‘Let’s get it together, let’s step it up,’” Collins said. “I just really got on a roll.”
Collins had plans to undergo right wrist surgery on Friday, but said she may reconsider with a U.S. Open bid now in the offing.
“It’s still really all shocking to me,” Collins said. “I’m still really caught off guard to be honest. I’m just really excited to be able to do it for myself and our program.”