An unappreciated aspect of doubles tennis, according to players on the UCLA men’s tennis team, is the location and placement of the first serve, which is often decided by the partner who isn’t currently serving.
This has become clear to the UCLA’s No. 1 doubles team, which has built a lot of chemistry from playing together in doubles this season. Sophomore Marcos Giron believes that he and sophomore Dennis Novikov are working well together on deciding which side to locate serves. The player standing closer to the net examines the positioning of the returner, thinks back on his previous actions and gives a sign with his fingers behind his back.
“When you’re at the net you can really see what type of serves are giving the opponents the most trouble, so the person at the net will often signal where they think the server should go,” Giron said.
Whether it’s a body serve, a wide serve or a slice serve, redshirt freshman Karue Sell is always prepared to give his doubles partner a signal when he’s positioned at the net.
“We try to work in a lot of different serves, just so the guy doesn’t get a rhythm for the return,” Sell said.
The Bruins have also been using the past week or two to rest some of their top players to keep them fresh for postseason play. Specifically, junior captain Adrien Puget sat out the team’s last match against Arizona, Novikov only played doubles in last weekend’s matches, and Sell sat out doubles against Utah last Friday. Coach Billy Martin was quick to point out, however, that at this point in the season he knows what his top line up looks like, and anticipates all three players to be playing their usual amount come tournament time.
“I feel fairly confident in where I want the line up to be and I’m not trying out new teams necessarily,” Martin said. “I think this far into the season there isn’t a great deal of question.”
Giron wasn’t given any time off for the back-to-back matches last weekend and has been battling minor tendinitis in his knees, but says that he is used to playing a lot from a very young age.
“I just want to be careful, it’s not affecting me at all out on the court,” Giron said. “Growing up we’ve played so many tournaments, so back-to-back matches are no problem.”
The team currently holds a record of 18-1, and has four regular season matches remaining on its schedule. While remaining focused on taking things one game at a time, Martin said he cannot help thinking about a chance to beat USC on home court a week from Friday.
“I have expected (from the start of Pac-12 play) that we will hopefully be 6-0 going into our match against USC and having that decide the regular season Pac-12 champion,” Martin said.
In order for the team to be playing at the peak of its abilities come playoff time, Sell said that he wants everyone to be alert and ready for each match on the schedule.
“Every match is very important, we’re playing them to improve until the end of the season when we need to peak and win the Pac-12 like we did last year,” Sell said.
On the subject of being prepared for every level of opponent, Giron pointed out the great thing about sports is that you never know what will happen until the end of any game or match.
“Going into every match we need to make sure we are very focused and intense,” Giron said. “Don’t go into the match loose thinking that you’re for sure going to win because everyone out there wants to beat us so anything can happen.”