The last match before Pac-12 play begins on Friday should be a fairly routine one for the UCLA men’s tennis team, however, the team remains focused on playing well every time it steps on the court, regardless of the stakes.
“Every match is important, because of the ranking, the seeding for indoors, and whether or not we host a regional for the NCAA tournament in May,” said coach Billy Martin.
Today, No. 3 UCLA takes on University of San Diego, a team that the Bruins swept in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament. The match will mark the halfway point in the season’s non-conference schedule, where every victory is important because of the strong competition in the Pac-12 this year. This year, five of the eight Pac-12 teams are ranked in the top 25 in the nation.
After winning their first four matches against unranked teams, players, including sophomore Dennis Novikov, are beginning to feel confident in their ability to take care of business against teams like USD.
“We beat (USD) last year to qualify and go to Athens for NCAAs, so it should be a pretty routine match,” Novikov said.
In order to manage his players’ expectations, Martin told the team after its match against Fresno State, “We’ve got to expect to have a real tough match, and we can’t think that we’re going to come out here and not have to earn it.”
From the start of the season, the team has leaned on its depth in singles play to continuously carry it to victory. Junior Adrien Puget understands this, but believes it is not the most important part of today’s match.
“I think singles-wise we are going to be okay, because we are very strong in singles, but the doubles point is going to be really crucial for the tempo of the match.”
Coming off an impressive straight-set victory against Fresno State over the weekend, the team is poised to keep its foot on the gas and try to win every set today.
As captain and one of the leaders of the team, Puget has been paying attention to the recent play of upcoming opponents, and is aware of what the Toreros bring to the court.
“They have a good team this year, and they won a couple good matches, so we expect a tough match and a tough fight especially in doubles,” said Puget.
While Puget used the Toreros’ most recent matches to prepare, Martin said that he thinks back to past battles that UCLA has had with USD.
“We know them pretty darn well,” Martin said. “We’ve had quite a few battles with them over the last couple of years, so I’m expecting another tough battle.”
USD no longer has the two players that were ranked in the top 100 at the end of last season, but Martin has been impressed by Romain Kalaydjian, a French player who has been playing in the No. 1 spot this season for the Toreros.
In some ways it is just another game on the schedule, but Puget says the team expects to win the championship this season, and with great expectations comes responsibility and accountability in every match.
“We can’t afford to lose matches; it will hurt our ranking and it hurts our confidence,” said Martin. “To me I think we want to have really high expectations of what we can do day in and day out.”
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