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Thursday, December 14

Top-seeded UCLA battles Vanderbilt on unfamiliar turf

Sophomore Dennis Novikov said the Bruins are focusing on themselves since they are unfamiliar with their Round of 16 opponent, the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Sophomore Dennis Novikov said the Bruins are focusing on themselves since they are unfamiliar with their Round of 16 opponent, the Vanderbilt Commodores. Brandon Choe / Daily Bruin

The UCLA men’s tennis team finds itself in a familiar position, albeit in an unfamiliar setting.

For the 37th straight year, the Bruins have advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. This time around though, UCLA coach Billy Martin has some concerns about the unknowns of their location.

“In my 30 years of coaching this is the first time we’ve ever had it (in Champaign, Ill.),” Martin said. “Without a track record, I don’t really know the restaurants or the laundromats or all those different things that I feel good about everywhere else we go.”

Top-seeded UCLA has already arrived in Champaign, Ill. ahead of its Thursday night match, hoping to get acquainted with its surroundings before taking on Vanderbilt.

Although the Bruins have consistently gone deep into the tournament, they have only brought home one title since 1985 and head into the Round of 16 with the added pressure of being the No. 1 seed while adjusting to various challenges.

“We’re getting used to the weather, the courts and the speed while making sure we’re moving well and we’re focused and fresh for the match,” said sophomore Marcos Giron.

The team hopes the chemistry and friendship it has built on and off the court during the season can help them adjust to their new environment.

While off the court, players on the team often hang out with each other and their coach encourages them to take the time to step away from tennis.

“It’s ultimately important to stay relaxed when we’re off the court and not continue to dwell on what’s coming up,” Martin said.

UCLA’s opponent in the Round of 16 also provides a foreign challenge for the Bruins. Both Martin and the players said Vanderbilt is a team they know little about.

Giron said the added challenge of facing a fairly new opponent is an exciting one, since the team often tends to play the same core group during the season year after year. Sophomore Dennis Novikov and Giron, who are doubles partners, are both focused more on their own preparation than worrying about their opponent.

“We don’t really know what to expect from them,” Novikov said. “We’re just practicing and getting in a groove to get ready for our match.”

The team flew into Chicago and drove to Champaign Tuesday, with today and Thursday to practice and get prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. UCLA is hopeful its stay extends past a couple of days in the new environment.

“It’s NCAAs so every team out there is just going to be very pumped up to play,” Giron said. “We know that we’re going to be up for a battle and we’re excited for it.”

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