After being named college tennis' Player of the Year last season, USC's Rick Leach, son of USC Coach Dick Leach, thought about turning pro.
The thought quickly passed.
"It wasn't that tough a decision because of my dad and the team," he said. "Winning the NCAA championship would be something really special. I'd like to do it for my dad. That would be something I'd never forget."
And so, after taking a semester off last fall to earn enough computer points to improve his world ranking from No. 608 to 198, Leach is back, attempting to become the first collegian to earn All-American honors four times in both singles and doubles.
Saturday, he defeated Otis Smith, 7-6, 7-5, in No. 1 singles as the top-ranked Trojans improved their record to 16-0 with a 5-1 victory over third-ranked UCLA (13-4) at USC's Marks Stadium.
Leach fought off three set-points in the first set against Smith, who beat Leach in Hawaii three months ago and moved from No. 5 to No. 1 in the UCLA lineup after winning the Southern California Intercollegiates last weekend in Pasadena.
Leach won the tiebreaker, 7-1.
Smith, a junior left-hander who redshirted last season after breaking his left wrist on the backstop while chasing a lob in a tournament, also led in the second set, 5-4, and was serving for the set.
Leach broke serve twice in the last three games.
"I wasn't expecting these college players to be that good," said Leach, who won a professional satellite tournament last fall, finished second in another and won eight doubles titles. "Usually, if I just keep the ball on the court, I can win in these college matches."
Leach, 22, started slowly this season, a stomach virus staying with him for about three weeks in January. His father said he lost about 10 pounds.
In February, he lost in dual matches to Andrew Sznaidjer of Pepperdine and Richard Bergh of Cal State Long Beach, but he has won eight straight matches to improve his record to 13-2.
He and Luke Jensen, whose ambidexterity has earned him the nickname "Dual-Hand Luke," form the nucleus of what Dick Leach calls the best team in his eight seasons at USC. Last month in Louisville, the Trojans won the USTA/ITCA national indoor championship for the first time.
"I think we have a good chance to win it this year," Leach said. "We have a lot of spirit."
They made quick work of UCLA, four of their top five players winning in straight sets. Eric Amend ended the match when he beat UCLA's Patrick Galbraith, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in No. 6 singles.
The doubles were not played.