Imagine losing an Olympic event by a hundredth of a second – and then competing in the world championships the next day.
That’s the type of challenge facing three members of the UCLA men’s tennis team.
Just a day after a heartbreaking tournament final that the Bruins were a point away from winning, sophomores Marcos Giron and Dennis Novikov, as well as junior Adrien Puget, will compete in the NCAA Individual Championships.
Throughout the season, coach Billy Martin has stressed the importance of the team tournament over the individuals, but he still wants his players to summon whatever energy and fight they have left into competing well in the event.
“We preach all year long that the team title is what we want, but at the same time I want them to do well and I’d love for them to win a national individual title,” Martin said.
Ranked No. 27 in singles this year, Novikov has had his fair share of success in past individual tournaments, especially when he earned a wild card trip to the U.S. Open after winning the USTA National Championships last year.
After winning his first match in the U.S. Open against Jerzy Janowicz, who at the time was ranked No. 86 in the world, Novikov believes he can win it all in individuals.
“Hopefully I can win it, so my goal is to go all the way, and representing UCLA in the individuals is also a big part,” Novikov said.
Giron has 32 singles victories this year, including 15 against ranked opponents. Momentum is on his side, as he beat the No. 2 and No. 8 college players in the nation in his last two matches.
“It just depends whether I bring my A-game or not,” Giron said.
“Everyone out there is beatable and I really gave myself a lot of confidence the last few matches beating a couple of the top guys in the nation, so it will be fun.”
After the championship match against Virginia, Giron was disappointed, but he wants to use his frustration to drive his success in individuals.
“Even though it’s tough right now I’m going to be very pumped for it because one of my big goals all year was to get into this tournament and … do well to earn the wild card to the U.S. Open,” Giron said.
The quick turnaround is something Martin has been dealing with for years now, and he said he knows that his players have the character and mental toughness to focus on doing well individually.
“I’m somewhat used to it but it might be a little harder on the guys,” Martin said.
“Time has a way of getting rid of everything, and, as disappointed as we are, the guys are strong minded so we will be fine.”