For tennis aficionados, reading the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s rule manual is like reading David Foster Wallace: you don’t, and you lie about it.
But, if you do read the ITA manual, not only do you earn the right to wear your tennis sweater tied around your shoulders like a cape, Irwin Fletcher style, you also learn that winning a doubles match is half as important as winning a singles match, mathematically.
Therefore, singles wins get more attention. UCLA has three singles players in the nation’s top 75.
They also have Warren Hardie.
Hardie fills a special role for the Bruins. He’s unique because he has not played in a singles conference match all year, but he’s a rock in the doubles line-up.
“You know, I just haven’t really worked my way into the singles line-up, and I’ve always just kind of had a little better game suited for doubles,” said Hardie, a junior who transferred from Penn State in 2010.
Freshman Marcos Giron understands why his teammate is so effective in doubles play.
“He’s got a good serve, and he’s very proactive at net. He’s always on top of the net, looking to hit the ball, and (being) on the aggressive side,” Giron said.
The Bruins face off against No. 12 Cal this Saturday, and No. 11 Stanford today, a team they haven’t won a doubles point against in conference play for four years.
“They’ve got pretty good doubles, and I feel like, for us, we have to raise our level to be able to play with them,” Hardie said.
The Bruins consistently losing the doubles point hasn’t kept them from beating the Cardinal. Their last meeting ended 6-1 in favor of the Bruins in Palo Alto.
So the doubles point is sometimes academic. But, when the regionals start in May, it becomes decisive.
Baylor ousted UCLA in the round of 16 last season 4-3. Baylor swept the doubles point, which made the difference. Even Hardie lost.
But, playing in big matches is part of what drew him from Happy Valley to Westwood, even if it meant sacrificing individual achievement.
“Right now he’s just having to play doubles and he has a great attitude about that,” coach Billy Martin said. “He still wants to contribute and be part of our national championship run.”
Pete Sampras always pooh-poohed doubles play as a sideshow. Singles was real tennis. He once famously said of singles:
“It’s one-on-one out there, man. There ain’t no hiding. I can’t pass the ball.”
Perhaps Sampras’ attitude developed because he thought he was over qualified for the Davis Cup, or doubles in general. But, it was probably because he had a sub-.500 doubles record in his career, unprecedented for someone alongside Laver, Federer and Borg on the Mount Rushmore of tennis.
Sampras may not have understood the merit of team tennis. Luckily for the Bruins, Hardie does.