When South Carolina tennis star Paul Jubb first met Josh Goffi, he made a promise to the Gamecock head coach.
“I told him, ‘If you give me the same opportunity all these other players are getting who are on my level, I will be the best, I will rise to the top.’ Somehow it happened,” Jubb said.
Jubb fulfilled that promise Saturday by winning the NCAA Singles Championship, the first South Carolina tennis player to win a national championship.
The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind for the South Carolina junior, who swept through the 64-man field by winning six straight matches and dispatching of No. 1 seed Nuno Borges of Mississippi State in the finals. Jubb, the No. 4 seed, had lost to Borges twice this season before taking him down in the finals. He finished his fabulous season with a 38-4 record, including 23 victories over ranked opponents.
“It’s been surreal, just trying to deal with all the overwhelming emotions,” said Jubb, who returned to campus in Columbia on Sunday.
How national champion Paul Jubb landed at South Carolina
Jubb, who had lost two three-set matches to Borges earlier this season, snapped his rival’s 31-match winning streak with a 6-3, 7-6 victory in the finals. Afterward, he collapsed on the court in pure jubilation — and relief.
“Just it being such a long week, it was just so much relief,” he said. “After the one match point he saved, I didn’t attack it the way I wanted to and it really didn’t work out at all and things started flooding through my mind from when I first played him and I had one match point and lost. From being able to bottle up all the emotions and stuff and release it at the end was just perfect.”
He then hugged Goffi, who took a chance on the young 17-year-old when he recruited him three years ago in Jubb’s hometown of Hull, England.
“It was just surreal,” Jubb said. “I said, ‘We did it,’ and all the emotions just kinda came out of me and I thanked him for taking the chance and recruiting me and allowing me to come here. I was just so happy in that moment.”
Jubb dropped just one set in his six matches at the USTA National Campus in Orlando and rallied for a three-set win over No. 7 Aleksander Kovacevic of Illinois in the semifinals. Even during the first set of that match (a 4-6 loss), he believed he could rally and reach the finals.
“There is always something in the back of my mind, that bit of belief that I could beat anyone in the tournament,” he said. “But I was taking it round by round and not trying to think too far ahead and I think that’s what helped me focus on each match and just do what needed to be done.”
Borges (37-3) had not lost a set in the tournament before facing Jubb, who had a match point against him in their first three-set match this season. Jubb had a plan this time and believed he could beat him.
“The last three times I had played Nuno, I won the first set and after I won that first set, I was really like, ‘I can do this.’ I was pushing and pushing,” he said. “From that moment on, I just didn’t want to allow myself to go to three sets with him. I believed I could really take him out in two.”
Shortly after his victory, Jubb began getting text and Twitter messages from all over the world, congratulating him on his monumental victory. He heard from South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner, basketball coaches Frank Martin and Dawn Staley and, perhaps the one that meant the most, from Judy Murray, a legendary British tennis coach and the mother of former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.
“The support has been unreal. I’ve just been thanking everyone,” Jubb said. “I didn’t expect to get this much support. … My Twitter is blowing up more than ever.”
Now Jubb will head back to England, where he plans to play the professional grass-court season and possibly play professional tournaments throughout Europe. He will take his national championship trophy home with him and the knowledge that he made history at the University of South Carolina.
“It’s a great thing when you know you have made history and you are in the history books,” he said. “It’s going to be a thing to cherish the rest of my life.”