For the first time this season, Billy Martin seems nervous.
The men’s tennis coach is anxious about his team flying cross country to face defending NCAA champion and current No. 1 Virginia, but also because Tuesday’s match will be the first one indoors in 2016. The dual match prepares the Bruins for this weekend’s ITA Division I National Men’s Team Indoor Championship, which will also be hosted by the Cavaliers.
“We don’t play any indoor tennis except for this event, really, unless we get rained out somewhere that has some indoor courts,” Martin said. “It’s always a little bit of a shock for us.”
Indoor matches have been an Achilles’ heel for UCLA, which exclusively practices outdoors – last year, the Bruins lost five, in addition to the NCAA Round of 16 loss to Oklahoma that started outdoors but was moved indoor because of weather. Martin said the match against Virginia was purposely scheduled so the team would have multiple days to adjust to the indoor atmosphere before the National Team Indoor Championships.
“We’ll have enough time, I think, to prepare halfway decently and get used to the conditions,” Martin said. “Getting a good first serve percentage in is gonna be very important. Giving players chances on second serve to really rip the return, and the fastness of the courts – it’s just not indicative of playing the steady type of tennis that we can do a little bit more of out here at our place and outdoors in general.”
Martin has also emphasized getting off to quick starts this season, and it’s paid off, with UCLA winning the doubles point in each match. The Bruins are confident they can continue the streak against the Cavaliers, who boast the nation’s No. 5 doubles team in Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Mac Styslinger and the No. 15 pair of Ryan Shane and Luca Corinteli.
“It’s honestly gonna be a really tough match, but we’ve been playing really well in doubles, so I think we can win the doubles point for sure,” said junior Joseph Di Giulio, who plays No. 2 doubles with senior Karue Sell, as well as No. 6 singles. “In singles, we have a chance at every court.”
Although the match takes place on the other side of the country, UCLA will compete against many familiar faces.
“I know everyone on the (Virginia) team really well,” said sophomore Martin Redlicki. “I grew up training with a lot of the guys on the team in Florida at the USTA Training Center so I know their games. I know them as people. We’re gonna have to play really well – they’re No. 1 in the country for a reason.”
The marquee singles matchup will be at court one, with junior Mackie McDonald, a two-time All-American and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, taking on Shane, the defending NCAA Division I singles champion and current No. 11 singles player in the country. In their most recent match, McDonald fell to Shane in the second round of the Costa Mesa Pro Classic in September.
“What happened a year ago or a month ago – yes it happened, but today is today and if you go out there with the right, positive frame of mind and you execute and perform, it could be a different day,” Martin said. “Even if it was matches we won a month ago, I’m not gonna assume we’re gonna win those matches. We’ve still gotta go out and earn it.”
In addition to Shane, Virginia has four other players ranked in the top 100 in singles, including No. 2 Kwiatkowski, but Di Giulio believes the Bruins are up to the task.
“As long as the guys play well, we’re in there,” Di Giulio said. “It’s gonna be a battle, but we have a chance – I like our chances against them.”