Having successfully completed its mission of winning yet another Pac-10 title, the No. 7 UCLA men’s tennis team began its quest for the illustrious NCAA title this past Friday.

The Bruins could not have gotten off to a better start. The team breezed past its first- and second-round matches in impressive fashion with back-to-back 4-0 shutouts and earned a ticket to the Sweet 16 in College Station, Texas, the site of the 2009 NCAA Championships.

“I think it’s a little bit more intense now that we’re in a situation where it’s do or die,” coach Billy Martin said. “It adds more pressure and anxiety. It’s like if we don’t win today, then that’s the end of our year.”

In Friday’s match against Southern Illinois, the Bruins put their foot on the gas from the beginning and never let up, sweeping all three doubles matches and quickly winning three singles matches to give UCLA the victory. Friday’s victory over the Salukis set up a rematch on Saturday with the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors, whom the Bruins defeated 6-1 earlier in the season.

However, Saturday’s match was not a walkover for the Bruins, as the Rainbow Warriors came to play early.

Hawai’i won the first doubles match in an upset when senior Jeff Fitch and sophomore Dennis Lajola took down the 52nd-ranked tandem of sophomore Nick Meister and senior Michael Look.

But UCLA proved to be too much, winning the other two doubles matches to capture the doubles point and then roaring past Hawai’i in singles competition to close out the match.

In order to cope with the pressure of the postseason, Martin said he frequently looks to his veteran players, some of whom helped the Bruins make a deep run in last year’s NCAA Championships.

“When we have veteran players who have been there, it makes us a little bit more confident and takes a little pressure off,” Martin said.

The Bruins’ next opponent is Miami, who upset their host, the No. 10 Florida Gators, on Saturday, 4-3.

Martin made it clear that he is not looking at Miami’s victory over Florida as a fluke and said that he and his squad are anxious to mix it up with the Hurricanes this Thursday.

“They have got to be a very good team if they beat a good Florida team, especially since it was being played in Florida,” Martin said. “That’s a very tough place to play, but we were expecting a tough match anyway, whether it was Miami or Florida. It’s going to be a real battle, one that I’m looking forward to and my team is looking forward to.”

Although the Bruins ran through the competition in these first two rounds, Martin and his players understand that their stiffest challenges are yet to come.

However, Martin said that if his players stay within themselves and don’t get caught up in the hype, they have a serious chance to bring another NCAA title home to Westwood.

“I think you’ve got to take one match at a time,” Martin said. “We have to keep everything in perspective, even though it is the NCAA Championship. It’s still just tennis. I want my guys to stay relaxed and not be in awe of the scenario and all the tough teams. That is how we will reach our ultimate goal.”