Southern California Pro Futures tournament host and USC men’s tennis coach Peter Smith couldn’t help but get in a little dig on former UCLA player Karue Sell while presenting the winning singles’ trophy.
“He never won on these courts playing for UCLA, but he did a lot of winning here this week,” Smith joked as he congratulated Sell, who came back to beat Christopher Eubanks, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-2, for his first USTA Pro Circuit $25,000 title on Sunday at Marks Tennis Stadium on the campus of USC.
It was actually a true statement from Smith, Sell confirmed in his post-match interview. In four years, he never won in singles on the USC courts. “I just couldn’t play here,” Sell said. “Even if it was against Florida and Georgia, I never won here. I always played [former USC players] E.J. [Eric Johnson] or Johnny Wang and they always kicked my [butt]. I think now I’ve made up for it.”
The 24-year-old Sell, who also captured the doubles title on Friday, came all the way through qualifying and won his 12th consecutive match over the past nine days. He earned $3,600 in prize money for the singles win, and 27 valuable ATP points. Sell is next on to the Long Beach Pro Futures event this week at El Dorado Park, and has requested a Wednesday start.
Sell also came through qualifying back in September to win his first pro title at Claremont, a $15,000-level event. “I’m starting to think I should just play qualies for every tournament,” he joked.
The 21-year-old Eubanks from Atlanta will cash a runner-up check for $2,120 and earns 15 ATP points, which will help keep him climbing on the rankings ladder where he currently sits just inside the top 350.
Sell said he injured his right hamstring in the first set and that it was “killing” him for most of the match. After the hard-serving, aggressive Eubanks won the first set, Sell decided to change his strategy.
“After the first set I just stopped thinking and said whatever happens, happens,” Sell said. “I started moving inside the baseline to return his serve and I think that kind of threw him off a little bit. He didn’t pick his spots as well. I don’t know, I think caring less actually helped a little bit.
“It doesn’t work all the time, but it worked today. It was one of those matches where it felt like at any point he could just break me and run with the set and it’s over. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to pull that one off.”
Eubanks will take two weeks off but remain in Southern California before attempting to qualify for the new ATP $150,000 Challenger in Newport Beach Jan. 20-28.
“He just picked up his game and started playing at a really high level and took the racket out of my hand,” Eubanks said. “Unfortunately I didn’t win, but it was a great week.”