The top seed in the NCAAs can come with its fair share of pressure. But the UCLA men’s tennis team did not read too much into the significance of this at last weekend’s NCAA Regionals, using them to re-establish the rhythm of playing matches, comfortably advancing to the NCAA Round of 16.
“It was two weeks today since we had Ojai, and it’s not good to go that long without competition. We’ve done a good job, I don’t think we were as sharp as we would be, but everybody is in the same boat,” said coach Billy Martin. “The match yesterday was certainly the weaker of the two teams; today’s team was a good team and I thought our level was better. With each successive match … we will get better.”
The Bruins notched 4-0 wins over their respective opponents this past weekend, showing improved play against the Drake Bulldogs, the tougher of two opponents, when they needed it. Sophomore Marcos Giron played great tennis over the course of the weekend, grabbing two singles victories over Nino Hasandedic of UMKC and James McKie of Drake, in addition to a doubles victory with sophomore Dennis Novikov over Anis Ghorbel/McKie of Drake. Giron said that he believes the victories like the ones they had this weekend are what the team needed to get back in the rhythm of match play, but that they are taking things one match at a time.
“It’s always good to get a win under our belt, no matter who the opponent is. It’s NCAAs now so this is what we’ve been playing all season for. We were all fired up and we came out strong,” Giron said.
“We’re going to take every opponent very seriously; you never know what can happen.”
Redshirt freshman Karue Sell claimed a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Tim Akhmedov of UMKC on Friday, and said he believes that he has made adjustments to his game over the past few weeks that have allowed him to play his best tennis going into the last – and most important – stretch of the season.
“I feel like we needed a match like this (on Friday), you know to really get our rhythm back. Everyone is playing really well,” Sell said. “I’ve been hitting the ball heavier, I’m always working on my serve, which has always been a bit of a weakness. But overall I’m playing really well, I’m hitting the ball well.”
Junior Clay Thompson was consistent in his singles matches, losing just two points in both games over the weekend. He said he feels that the comfortable wins the team had this weekend will motivate them going forward in the NCAA championships, a path that begins with Vanderbilt in the Round of 16 on Thursday.
“I think it was great, it’s a good way to get us motivated for the tournament and also to get ourselves back in the mindset of playing matches,” Thompson said. “For this to be a little bit on the easier side for us, we have our confidence going for us in these early rounds which is huge for us.”