As a No. 1 seed, UCLA men’s tennis knows that it has a target on its back.
Every other team in the NCAA team tournament has its eye on the Bruins, ready to take them down.
“We know they are going to be gunning for us, especially since we are the No. 1 seed,” said sophomore Dennis Mkrtchian. “But taking that into account we are confident and ready to compete hard.”
But the knowledge that they are the team to beat isn’t making the players nervous. With a strong season behind them, the Bruins are secure in their top spot.
“We’re definitely very confident, each and every one of us,” Mkrtchian said. “I don’t think there is one player who doesn’t believe in himself.”
UCLA will open its campaign against No. 16 seed Vanderbilt today. Vanderbilt boasts an 18-10 record heading into the championship.
What matters most now is the Bruins’ ability to sustain their high level of play heading into the round of 16, coming off of convincing wins to open the tournament.
“I think things look good, but it still comes down to playing well and being really ready, and not trying to look forward too much. We need to take every match as it comes,” said coach Billy Martin.
Part of this in-the-moment attitude has involved not getting overly worried about preparation as the tournament approaches.
“As of right now we’re healthy, and that’s all you can ask for going into it,” Martin said. “I tell the guys you can only try to cover all the bases and do a good job, and you need a little luck, and even sometimes it doesn’t work out. We’re ready to give it our best try.”
UCLA lost in the semifinal stage of the NCAA championships last year to archrival USC, 4-1. But this year, the team feels it has a chance to go all the way if it can sustain the level of play it has shown all season long.
Junior Clay Thompson said that as the Bruins pursue their ultimate goal of a national title, building their momentum with each successive match is critical.
“The tournament is going to be all about just building and keeping our confidence as the No. 1 seeds and showing that,” Thompson said. “We have to keep pushing ourselves. We really have to keep working hard. We can’t take it for granted that we’re the No. 1 seeds because every other team is working just as hard to beat us. We have to keep it up.”