After dominating in its first four matches, the UCLA men’s tennis team was put to the test against the University of San Diego on Tuesday.
Coach Billy Martin viewed the closely contested match as a learning experience for the team moving forward.
“It got tight there, it may have looked one sided at 4-0, but it was far from that. What we need is … to win some tight ones, get a little confidence, and so the next time it happens we’ve gone through it, especially for the guys that maybe haven’t experienced that.”
No. 3 UCLA earned a 5-2 victory, improving to 5-0 on the season. After going up 3-0, UCLA’s three remaining singles players struggled to keep the momentum going. Junior Clay Thompson went on to win in three sets, but sophomores Dennis Mkrtchian and Marcos Giron fell short.
In a battle of strong serves, sophomore Dennis Novikov and USD’s Thibaut Visy were unable to break each other in the first four games. In the fifth game of set one, Novikov began hitting his spots.
After every strong serve, he capitalized on a weak return and placed a strong forehand crosscourt out of Visy’s reach.
“I played well, returning, hitting good serves,” Novikov said. “My team played well, everyone did what they needed to do, and we got the win.”
On court No. 2, Adrien Puget was locked in a tough battle with freshman Romain Kalaydjian. However, Puget ramped up his play later on in the first set and eventually won it 7-6(3).
An emerging star for the Bruins, redshirt freshman Karue Sell, had what he considered his best match of the season. Sell and Puget battled back from an 0-2 deficit to win their doubles match. Sell also dominated his singles match, winning 6-2, 6-0.
“I was hitting the ball well, and I felt good on the court in both matches,” Sell said.
Mkrtchain tasted victory with multiple match-point opportunities on court No. 4, but Martin said that was ultimately what led to his demise.
“A lot of times that’s more mental than anything,” Martin said. “You’re … ready to shake hands and then you lose the second set and you’re sort of stunned.”
Thompson, rallied after losing his first set, winning his next two sets 6-2, 6-3.
Martin said he considers a strong set of bottom-three singles players to be an advantage for the team moving forward.
“We have as good a four through six as any other team … and its them that will really help us win matches,” Martin said.