After getting out to a hot 4-0 start to the season, the No. 9 UCLA men’s tennis team will be traveling to the Bay Area for the weekend to face the toughest teams it has seen so far.
The team will be playing its first Pac-12 opponents of the season, No. 13 Cal (3-0) and No. 6 Stanford (4-0). Although the matches will not count toward conference standings, the Bruins are determined to avenge their losses to both schools last year.
“Cal whooped us both times last year, Stanford did, (too),” coach Billy Martin said. “They are both really good teams, and they are tough places to play, so I think it will just make us a better team in the long run.”
Not only is this the team’s first road trip of the season, it is the first ever for freshmen Marcos Giron and Dennis Mkrtchian.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Mkrtchian said. “I’m just going to prepare like I do for any other match … and (go) out there and just (represent) UCLA.”
Giron is used to traveling on the road to play in tournaments, but it will be a different experience now that he is in college.
“It’s definitely going to be a little different playing on the road for college, now that there is going to be a whole crowd behind them, and they are going to be cheering for the other guys, not for us,” Giron said. “I’m definitely excited though for the experience.”
Martin said his team is prepared for its first away games of the season, but it will be interesting how the players handle not having the home crowd in their favor.
Even though he is just a freshman, Giron knows how important these games are for UCLA regardless of how early in the season it is.
“Those are the first very two big matches that we are going to be playing this year,” Giron said. “Those are our rivals, and it would be good to come out with a win and see how we are doing compared to the rest of the guys.”
Even with a perfect record thus far, Martin says there are still improvements that this team needs to make if it want to beat top teams.
“I see our guys taking a little bit of mental vacations when they get up,” Martin said. “They are fighting like dogs when they’re down and when they’re even. … You just can’t afford to do that against the top teams.”
These matches could also be a precursor to a matchup in the USTA/ITA National Team Indoors later this month, as all three schools qualified for a spot in the tournament last weekend.
“It will be a good gauge to (see) where UCLA stands,” Mkrtchian said. “We’re all playing well, we’re all confident, we’re all really excited.”