The UCLA men’s tennis team is feeling good about its game, and has aspirations of doing big things this year as a team expected to be among the elite squads in the country. 

The No. 3 Bruins are ready to make a statement as a top team. They will kick off their season today at home against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

UCLA enters the season with its highest preseason ranking since the 2004-05 season, when the Bruins started the season as No. 2 in the country. They went on to win the national championship, defeating Baylor, 4-3.

“It’s always a bit of a nervous time, even for the experienced guys. It’s the first match of the year and you’re trying to get back in the swing of things,” coach Billy Martin said. “But I feel confident, especially after what I saw this weekend.”

The Bruins are coming off some exceptional play this past weekend at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup, which saw sophomores Marcos Giron and Dennis Novikov claim the doubles title, and junior Adrien Puget reach the singles final.

UCLA squared off against UCSB two seasons ago in a home match that saw the Bruins come away with a 7-0 shutout win. In last season’s opener, the team raced to a 6-1 victory over Brigham Young University.

“I know they have a pretty good team. We got to see most of their players at a couple of different individual events during the fall,” Martin said. “I know their team pretty well, so I feel confident that if we are playing well and competing well that we should have a very good chance to come out ahead in that match.”

Despite opening the season against a lower ranked opponent, the team remains cautious going into the opener.

“As long as all the players can take every match seriously and don’t take anything for granted we should do well. Our team is very strong and deep,” Giron said. “I think as long as the players perform up to their capability they should do well.”

Giron is coming off of a strong performance this past weekend at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup. After being sidelined with a wrist injury early last season, he comes into the season as the No. 12 singles player in the country.

On the whole, the Bruins are an experienced team, losing just one senior from last season’s lineup. Giron hopes that the UCLA players can utilize their collective experience to get over the hump of the preseason jitters that can arise with the beginning of a new season.

“Since all of the team is so experienced at playing matches, as soon as the match starts we’ll relax, loosen up and play well,” said Giron. “Our team is very strong this year, and we only lost one player, so our team should do as strong this year.”

Sophomore Dennis Mkrtchian believes that sealing a victory today will act as a spring board to get the team’s feet off the ground, and enable everyone to become more comfortable moving forward.

“Winning the first match would definitely boost our confidence, making everyone more settled and ready to play. The first match of the season is always an interesting one,” Mkrtchian said. “I feel like the first match is a match to get rid of our nerves really.”

Contact Reece Foster at rfoster@media.ucla.edu