Saturday, September 23

UCLA men’s tennis to host NCAA regionals this Saturday

The doubles team of Holden Seguso and Haythem Abid and the Bruins will host the first round of the NCAA Tournament at LATC against Sacramento State.

The doubles team of Holden Seguso and Haythem Abid and the Bruins will host the first round of the NCAA Tournament at LATC against Sacramento State. Morgan Glier

Haythem Abid has had to fight a lot of battles to get to this point.

A recurring wrist injury in March looked to derail the redshirt senior’s final season playing with the UCLA men’s tennis team. It was the third time in as many years that he had to miss time because of an injury, but Abid fought back.

Last month he returned in time for the last conference dual match of the season and levied a three-set singles victory against No. 5 USC that helped lift No. 9 UCLA to its biggest win of the season.

Then, last week he flew to Morocco to play under the banner of his home country, Tunisia, in the Davis Cup, clashing against the likes of Algeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

Now, back in Westwood, Abid wants to finally lead his team to that elusive NCAA Championship and, if he has anything to say about it, there will be a certain amount of intensity in the effort.

“It’s NCAAs,” Abid said. “Everybody’s going to fight to the death.”

This weekend UCLA will host the NCAA regionals, which comprise the first two rounds of the annual 64-team tournament. It also represents the last chance for the Bruins to display that cutthroat mentality.

For the first time in recent memory, the Bruins head into the event on the tails of a rather forgettable regular season that produced a 14-6 record and the first time they’ve finished third place or lower in the Pac-10 since 1995.

But historically, the Bruins have had a tendency to pick up the slack at around this time. In coach Billy Martin’s tenure, the team has never failed to make it to at least the NCAA quarterfinal round. UCLA will have to turn in a superior performance to keep that streak alive.

Although they were granted hosting duties for the weekend, the Bruins were dealt a tougher draw than usual. The team’s first opponent will be Big Sky champion Sacramento State (17-11) Saturday, whose main selling point is Kiryl Harbatsiuk. The junior from Belarus has won 25 straight singles matches, leaving him undefeated at the Hornets’ No. 1 position.

The other first round matchup will feature UC Irvine (17-11) and California (12-7), two teams UCLA defeated earlier this year. Playing the Bears for the third time in such a short span could provide an interesting backdrop to Sunday’s competition, the winner of which travels to Athens, Ga. for the Round of 16.

“Yeah, we know all the guys (on Cal) so that’s a good thing, but we beat them twice, so they’re going to fight even more to make up for the two losses,” Abid said.

Two years removed from losing an entire season to surgery on that same wrist, Abid had been pegged as UCLA’s preseason No. 1 player for the third straight spring, but he has yet to finish that high in the order during the postseason. Abid will attempt to make this year end on a different note.

“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent, but this is as healthy as I’ve been in a long time,” Abid said. “Hopefully I will peak match after match and then by the quarters or semis I will be at my best.”

Although reluctant to rush Abid into the lineup too soon, Martin is certainly happy to have his most experienced player back and in a good state of mind for the final stretch.

“He was definitely down, but he hung in there,” Martin said. “I think he’s mentally gotten over (the injury) and being able to play has really lifted his spirits.”

Though this week’s layovers and long flights have been exhausting, Abid said playing all his matches on the Moroccan clay courts have helped strengthen his legs. But the Davis Cup victories weren’t even the best part about his trip.

“It was good to eat some Mediterranean food,” he added.

Starting off the tournament in Westwood, the rest of the Bruins hope their own home cooking serves them just as well.

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