The balls may have been deader and their hits may have lacked their normal authority the cold weather recently, but the UCLA men’s tennis team has successfully battled the elements in anticipation of its first match of 2013. The team has amped up its aggressive style of play lately, working hard in practice to improve its play in front of the net.
But before the first team event, the No. 3 Bruins will send eight players to the 2013 Sherwood Collegiate Cup this weekend. Sophomore Marcos Giron is seeded No. 2, while fellow sophomores Dennis Novikov and Dennis Mkrtchian are both fifth-seeded. Besides the chance for players to work on their individual games, the Cup gives the team its first look at opponents from Cal, Stanford, Baylor and USC – all teams that UCLA will face during the regular season. UCLA should benefit from the tournament’s location at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., which is roughly a 30-minute drive from UCLA up the 101 Freeway.
“Before we head over to play the Sherwood tournament I want to make sure that they’re sharp. We may be drilling a lot and playing some doubles and one set, but to maintain your concentration over a two- or three-set period is something you have to get used to,“ said coach Billy Martin.
The last few practices before the Sherwood tournament have focused on developing endurance and simulating real-game speed and longevity. However, Martin also emphasized the importance of allowing players to battle for positions in the lineup this season before their first match against UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday.
Though it isn’t his favorite part of his job, Martin will set a lineup for the team before its match on Wednesday so that the players can get themselves mentally prepared for their role on the team. The coach said it is difficult for him to manage the playing time of players he develops such close relationships with.
Martin also cited that the Bruins could face any of the four teams again, whether in the National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships or the NCAA championships.
“The important thing is starting to get into a competitive nature. As the season’s starting, you will see some of the teams you will have to battle with. … It will remind us that the battles are starting to begin,“ Martin said.
After he downplayed the importance of their national preseason ranking, redshirt senior Alex Brigham was quick to point out his confidence in this year’s team.
“I think we have a very talented team and I think we have a really good shot to go all the way,” Brigham said.
Novikov, who reached the quarterfinals of the Southern California Intercollegiate Championships during the fall, was excited about the team’s overall improvement coming into this season.
“We’re always in the hunt for an NCAA title, and we’re all more experienced this year, so we have a really good shot of winning it this year,” Novikov said.
Despite a strong showing in many individual tournaments throughout the year, both Brigham and Novikov have been looking forward to the team atmosphere, and both feel like they raise their level of play when their efforts support the team directly.
After a crushing loss to crosstown rival USC in the NCAA tournament semifinals last season, the Bruins have greater aspirations for this season. This weekend’s Sherwood Collegiate Cup should be a preview of what to expect this season, as both Giron and Brigham reached the consolation finals in 2012, and went on to have very strong campaigns last season.
Leading by example, junior captain Adrien Puget and Giron, the No. 12 singles player in the country, have been putting in extra work after practice, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by their coach.
“You can’t rely on what you did last year or the year before,” Martin said. “Every year you’ve got to earn it and be just as hungry and just as motivated.“