As it tries to downplay recent success and remain focused on closing out the season, the UCLA men’s tennis team is leaning on the leadership from the older, more experienced players on the team.
Coach Billy Martin said he notices how determined his team is to win a championship in the NCAA tournament this year during practice and games, but when he is not around, he relies on veteran leadership to keep his team focused.
“The upperclassmen can hopefully do an even better job than I can of reminding everyone to stay focused,” Martin said. “They’re with them off the court in the dorms or the apartments and at night to make sure they aren’t straying or losing focus.”
Today, No. 2 UCLA faces off against Washington, and then Saturday the Bruins will compete in their second-to-last Pac-12 conference match against the Oregon Ducks.
It’s an important time of the season, and Martin said he understands that the team relies on a lot of young players, adding that he just wants to make sure they are learning how to act maturely both on and off the court.
“Every tennis player, whether it be Federer or Nadal, will play a bad point, but it’s about how fast you get your concentration back,” Martin said.
As the Bruins attempt to secure the Pac-12 title for the second straight regular season, Martin continues to set the team’s goals and expectations beyond the regular season.
“I think we all have high goals, and certainly one of our goals is to win the Pac-12 regular season title and then take it on up to Ojai, (Calif.) and win the Pac-12 tournament,” Martin said.
Sophomore Marcos Giron believes that UCLA is the team to beat in the Pac-12, and said he knows the Bruins will receive every team’s best effort in conference matches.
“They’re going to be ready to play. I think since we’re ranked highest this year, it makes us the team to beat, which gives them a little fire to want to beat us even more,” Giron said.
“It would certainly be a great win for them, and one that could really help them with their rankings and chances for higher seeding in the NCAAs, so we can’t take them lightly.”
As the season heats up, redshirt freshman Karue Sell is not planning to change much in his regular routine, as he continues to work on his serve and forehand while keeping up intense physical training.
“We’ve been playing well, so we just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing so far,” Sell said.
Of the two teams UCLA plays this weekend, Martin believes Washington is going to be the tougher match.
It’s a case where the team’s experience is likely to pay off, especially because of what the team knows about its strong coaching and solid No. 1 singles player.
“We know most of their players, since we play them every year,” Martin said. “Their coaches are always very competitive and they get their guys fired up.”