Saturday, October 21

Pac-10 triumph not enough for Bruins

Redshirt junior Haythem Abid and the men's tennis team start the NCAA Tournament today at the LATC. The Bruins are looking to win their first NCAA trophy since 2005.

Redshirt junior Haythem Abid and the men's tennis team start the NCAA Tournament today at the LATC. The Bruins are looking to win their first NCAA trophy since 2005. Ish Bhanu

The No. 7 UCLA men’s tennis team has won the Pac-10 Championships each of the last six seasons.

But the UCLA sports tradition is not predicated on Pac-10 Championships and top 10 finishes, a fact that is well understood by coach Billy Martin.

“Winning the Pac-10 is something we’re all quite proud of, but this is UCLA, quite honestly,” Martin said. “Our year isn’t set to win Pac-10 Championships, it’s to get to our major goal of an NCAA Championship.”

The Bruins made a deep run into last year’s NCAA Tournament, finishing the season ranked No. 3 in the nation. The team also won the NCAA Championships in 2005 and has not finished the season ranked out of the top 10 in more than two decades.

The journey to the 2009 national championships begins when UCLA hosts the Southern Illinois Salukis at 1 p.m. today at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

Coming into the match, the Bruins are riding a tremendous wave of momentum, having won their last 10 matches, including victories over No. 9 Stanford and crosstown rival, No. 8 USC.

But with the Bruins’ success comes nagging injuries, particularly to senior leader Harel Srugo and most recently to standout Haythem Abid. However, Martin said that his team is almost at full strength heading into the college tennis version of the “Big Dance.”

“We’re certainly as healthy as we’ve been all year,” Martin said. “Harel is starting to be able to hit his two-handed backhand, and Abid’s ankle is coming along really well. I just hope that we achieve our goal of being able to play our best tennis in May.”

As far as the 10-match win streak is concerned, Martin hopes that the Bruins do not make the mistake of taking teams for granted.

“We definitely should have some confidence, but I’m always leery of being overconfident,” Martin said. “I want us to be hungry and feel like we have something to prove. We’re only seeded No. 7 so we’re certainly not the favorite. The powers that be obviously think there are other teams out there better than us.”

The Southern Illinois Salukis, who are 18-6 this season, come into the tournament with a Missouri Valley Conference Championship win, earning themselves an at-large bid. Although Martin is not necessarily familiar with the Salukis, he is not concerned with his team’s ability to adjust.

“Quite honestly, I don’t know much about them, but we’re used to this,” Martin said. “Sometimes smaller conference winners are the tough ones. Hopefully we can get a feel for them in the doubles so we know what we’re facing in singles.”

Although the Bruins made a fabulous run in last year’s NCAA Tournament, they came up short, losing in the round of 16. As coach Martin explains it, nothing would be sweeter than to add another NCAA title to the UCLA tennis trophy case.

“It’s our ultimate goal,” Martin said. “It’s our Stanley Cup, it’s our NBA Finals, it’s our dream. It would be a dream come true.”

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