For more than a decade, the UCLA men’s tennis team has been hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, known as the regionals.
This weekend is no different, as the No. 1 UCLA Bruins will play host to NCAA tournament regionals once again, giving them home-court advantage in their first two rounds of play if they get past the University of Missouri, Kansas City Kangaroos today. Their opponent in the second round would be whoever wins between Drake and Texas Christian University, a match also being played today at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. After a 24-1 regular season in which the Bruins achieved their goals of winning the Pac-12 regular season and tournament title, their focus now turns to playing at the peak of their ability in the tournament.
The Bruins have been playing their best tennis of late, and coach Billy Martin has kept his practice regimen consistent with what has worked throughout the season over the last couple of weeks while the team hasn’t had any matches, hoping that doing so will lead to similar success during the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve got to be our sharpest, so we’ve worked hard and haven’t changed too much of what we’ve been doing, especially since the guys are happy with it,” Martin said.
Junior captain Adrien Puget said the team’s recent success is based on the little details of each point, something he believes the team needs to focus on more in doubles.
“In singles we are looking good and strong, but we have been working more on the doubles so we have less pressure to win four singles matches,” Puget said.
Even though expectations may have grown for the team as it enters the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed for the first time since 1999, Puget sees no difference in the team’s demeanor.
“We are still the same team,” Puget said. “We are practicing and playing the same way and we still have the same free and fighting spirit, so I think it’s just a ranking.”
As one of the more experienced players on the team and someone who played No. 1 singles last year for UCLA in the NCAA tournament, junior Clay Thompson recognized the team’s outstanding potential early on and believes everything is starting to come together for the Bruins.
“We’ve known all year that we’ve had one of the best teams in the country. It’s just a matter of honing our skills together and building great chemistry,” Thompson said. “Early on, we weren’t really together enough, but now I think we have a lot more hope in each other.”
Puget wants UCLA’s future opponents to understand that the team is poised and prepared, and he believes the team’s rise in the rankings has really sent a message to the other top-10 teams that UCLA is the team to beat.
“We are all really confident in our team and in our game to go into the NCAA and win it,” Puget said. “We keep improving in the rankings, and it shows our competition that we are out here to win.”
If living up to the expectations that come with being the top team in the country wasn’t enough motivation, Thompson pointed out that the team also wants to bring home the NCAA title for its coach, especially to cement his legacy, which already includes 30 years with the UCLA program. On the other hand, Martin realizes the team is still a long ways away from its ultimate goal.
“We’re going to have to win six unbelievably tough matches,” Martin said. “We know not to take anything for granted and to be ready and prepared for each and every match.”