The 2011 season has already gotten off to a chaotic start for the UCLA men’s tennis team.
The Bruins enter this season looking for underclassmen to fill the voids left by the departure of key contributors from the 2010 team. The losses of Matt Brooklyn and Haythem Abid, seniors from last year, as well as the loss of senior Nick Meister, who will be out for the season because of an injured hip, have left the Bruins with unanswered questions heading into this season.
Despite these issues, No. 6 UCLA remains confident about this year’s team and its prospects for a successful season.
Senior Amit Inbar, Meister’s doubles partner over the past two years, recognized that while the loss of a player of Meister’s caliber is a big shock for the team, the dynamic surrounding the team is good.
“This is how it goes in college tennis, people come and go, and we have a few new freshmen who are fitting in great and are really going to help out the team,” Inbar said.
The key reason for continued optimism throughout the program is the arrival of several highly-touted freshmen, including standout Daniel Kosakowski, as well as Clay Thompson and Adrien Puget. It is these underclassmen who the team will rely heavily upon.
“I may need to play all three freshmen,” coach Billy Martin said. “I recruited them with that in mind, and I believe that they are certainly capable of performing for us.”
UCLA’s 2010 season ended in the NCAA quarterfinals,where it lost 4-2 to eventual semifinalist Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the tournament. As a result, expectations are quite high for this year’s team, though the challenges will be plenty given the losses of Meister, Abid and Brooklyn, last year’s top three players. The loss of Meister has also led to some experimentation with the lineup to find out which doubles pairings will be most suitable.
Martin acknowledged that while the team looks fairly strong in singles, the doubles situation will need tweaking.
“Our big area of concern is that third doubles spot,” Martin said. “We are trying several different pairings and with two tournaments coming up we are going to continue experimenting with that third team.”
Martin recognized that while this team is capable of having a strong season, it will be an ongoing learning process for his young squad. Nevertheless, Inbar remains committed to leading the Bruins.
“I will try to take the leading role, be the team captain, and show the rest of the guys the right way forward,” Inbar said. “At UCLA, the goal is to win the Pac-10 and win national titles.”
Indeed, there is extra motivation for this year’s team to perform given that local rival USC has won back-to-back NCAA championships.
“It was painful to see (the Trojans) win it, especially since we beat them 4-3 at USC only a few weeks before (USC won the tournament),” sophomore Maxime Tabatruong said.
With high expectations and the early setback of Meister’s injury, it will be compelling to see whether this Bruin team can handle the pressure and claim a conference title.
“I think that it’s more than obvious that everyone thinks it’s going to be a down year for us, and I don’t necessarily think that is going to be true,” Martin said. “I have told our players that it will depend on how bad they want it, and day in and day out how we compete. We are going to have to prove ourselves to the other teams and earn every victory.”