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November 23, 2014

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UNLV’s Luke Smith sweeps NCAA tennis titles

Smith, a senior from Australia, pulled off the rare sweep Sunday, becoming just the second player in 20 years to win both titles. Stanford's Alex O'Brien did the same thing in 1992.

Smith defeated Southern California's George Bastl of Switzerland 6-4, 6-3 in an all-foreign singles final, then teamed with fellow Aussie Tim Blenkiron to beat Bastl and Kyle Spencer of nearby Rancho Palos Verdes 6-4, 6-4 in doubles.

"It's great. Very unexpected. The best week of my life," Smith said. "I came here with intentions to win the doubles and try to do well at singles. Now my singles game has come around."

His victories gave UNLV its first NCAA tennis titles. They are only the fifth individual NCAA championships ever for the school, which had two NCAA titlists in track and one in golf.

"It's definitely put us on the map. It shows we're up there with the traditional powers," coach Larry Easley said. "Some of these schools have their choice of kids and we really have to look for diamonds in the rough."

Along with the title, Smith, 20, earned a wild card into the main singles draw of the U.S. Open in August. He and Blenkiron, a senior from Woodside, Australia, also received a wild card into the Open doubles draw.

Smith, who was ranked 65th nationally in play through April 21, used to be a hot-tempered player, who tossed his racket when things didn't go his way.

But he kept his composure until Bastl hit a wild forehand on match point in singles. Then Smith jumped in the air, screamed, "Yes, yes," and embraced Easley.

"He's really a pretty excitable kid and could lose his temper and focus easily," Easley said. "He got better this year as far as keeping his poise. It's the first time he's kept his poise the whole tournament."

Smith said, "I don't think I've made an outburst the whole tournament, which is rare for me. I realized it doesn't help me to get mad, so I've been blowing everything off."

It was the first time since 1966 that the singles finalists also met in the doubles final. That year, Charlie Pasarell of UCLA won both titles over USC's Stan Smith.

Luke Smith became the first unseeded player to win since Stanford's Jared Palmer in 1991.

Smith earned five of the singles match's seven service breaks on a cloudless day at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

With the first set tied 2-2, Bastl blew three game points after rallying from a love-40 deficit on his serve. On the fifth deuce, Bastl double faulted and then set a forehand wide to give Smith the break and a 3-2 lead. Smith served out the set with an ace to win a 40-love game.

"It's pretty disappointing (to lose twice)," said Bastl, a junior from Villars, Switzerland. "It wasn't my best day, but you have to live with it."

Smith led 3-1 in the second set, then broke Bastl twice more, including the final game. Bastl double faulted to make it 30-all. Smith cracked a backhand volley winner and Bastl hit the errant forehand on match point.

"It's a big surprise for me to be here. I was a longshot," said Smith, who didn't drop a set in six tournament matches.

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