UCLA men’s tennis was caught off guard last year when it traveled to Stanford.
The Cardinal program just saw a change in head coach and staff after long-time coach John Whitlinger retired, and new coach Paul Goldstein wanted to bring an energetic crowd to the matches, much like the matches seen at Big 12 schools. The Bruins weren’t prepared for the boisterous fans that came.
“Last year, we definitely weren’t ready for that,” said junior Mackie McDonald. “That was something new that they had with their new coaching staff, but we’re gonna bring out some guys this year to help with it. I think just from being there last year, I’m a little bit more prepared for it.”
Although Saturday’s match is considered a nonconference bout, the Bruins (8-2) can’t afford to ease off the gas pedal against the Cardinal (5-4). Last year, UCLA was upset in Palo Alto, with the final point coming down to a third-set tiebreaker on the last court. Coach Billy Martin hopes the loss is more than enough to motivate his team.
“It couldn’t have been any closer, but it was a somewhat painful loss,” Martin said. “It’s still fresh in my mind – I can remember it, I hope the guys who were there participating can remember it so that we can be motivated to go back and do a better job than what we did last year.”
Because the match last year came down to the No. 6 court, Martin is again reiterating his season-long emphasis on courts five and six.
“We’re very aware that we’ve got to be a lot better than we were last year at five and six,” Martin said. “On the same hand, we have to be just as good at one through four, so there’s not much you can do other than making sure that we’re trying to be super focused at every spot – having those guys being really prepared and doing a good job with our scouting reports.”
Sophomore Logan Staggs, who usually plays on court five, has taken this in stride, either winning or leading by a set when UCLA clinched the win in each outdoor dual match this season.
“I just think that (being in the fifth spot) motivates you a little more,” Staggs said. “I think that our top four are very solid, and if our main issue is at five and six, I personally think that if I can play that position, I can help this team out and probably push us to beating anybody.”
Even though Stanford is ranked just outside the top 25 following a loss to now-No. 12 Cal, it is one of two teams that boast six ranked singles players, including No. 4 Tom Fawcett, No. 48 David Wilczynski and No. 88 Sameer Kumar. UCLA isn’t far behind, however, with four singles players ranked in the top 100, led by McDonald at No. 19 and sophomore Martin Redlicki at No. 36. The two are also the No. 3 doubles pairing in the nation.
McDonald has a 5-1 singles record, including three victories over top-50 opponents, but Fawcett will be his highest ranked foe so far. The two have played several times, most recently at the Futures event in September where McDonald dominated Fawcett in straight sets 6-2, 6-4.
“I know his game,” McDonald said. “I’ll definitely try to manage his serve, take care of my serve and play his forehand.”
For Martin, Stanford’s combination of top-shelf competition and a tough road crowd will be another early season test for UCLA.
“It’s gonna be really good to see how our guys react and how mature they are mentally, with some derogatory comments and the majority of the people pulling for their Stanford Cardinal,” Martin said. “It just takes maturity and we’ve got quite a few older guys that have been through those wars on the road, so I’m confident that we’ll handle it pretty well.”