For the past three years, junior Mackie McDonald has been atop the UCLA men’s tennis lineup. As a two-time singles All-American with a career singles record of 69-15, McDonald is arguably the country’s top collegiate tennis player.
While the spotlight may shine fully on McDonald, the rest of the Bruins are highly touted as well. Four players are ranked in the top 100, anchoring two of the nation’s deepest singles and doubles lineups.
No. 6 UCLA (10-2) will look to build on an impressive victory over the then-No. 12 USC Trojans when UCLA hosts the BYU Cougars (11-2, 2-0 West Coast Conference) on Thursday. The Bruins will have to do it without McDonald, who will instead compete among the top professional players in the world at the ATP Tour BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California after receiving a main draw wild card.
“We have to be extra prepared without having the luxury of Mackie, similar to when we had the ITA Kickoff Weekend without him and had to play SMU and Georgia Tech,” said coach Billy Martin. “Luckily the BYU match is here at home, so everybody’s in good shape and hopefully playing well.”
Sophomore Martin Redlicki, ranked No. 57, and junior Gage Brymer, ranked No. 72, will lead the team in the first two singles slots. In McDonald’s absence from the lineup at the beginning of the season, the two excelled, with Redlicki going 1-0 on court one and Brymer going 3-0 on court two.
“It’s always tough not having Mackie, but I think that we’re strong enough to win without him,” Brymer said. “Going into the match, we just have the mindset that we’re gonna play as tough as we can and get through it.”
One question for UCLA is who will play singles on court six. Sophomore Austin Rapp returned from a left ankle sprain to compete at the Pacific Coast Men’s Doubles Championship this past weekend and will play doubles against the Cougars, but his availability for singles is still to be determined. If Rapp cannot go, Martin said his next two options at No. 6 are redshirt senior Ryoto Tachi and freshman Max Cressy.
Another factor for the match will be the wind, which is projected to reach as high as 10 miles per hour around game time. BYU practices indoors and does not experience outdoor conditions often, which Martin hopes his squad can take advantage of.
“I think it’s gonna be a lot harder for BYU to adjust to (the wind) than for us,” Martin said. “I actually like having the wind because we’re used to it somewhat, and our NCAA Championships this year are gonna be in Tulsa, where it’s gonna be very windy. The more we can get mentally prepared for that, the better I think.”
While UCLA is well-versed with how wind impacts the technical side of tennis, the players will have to wait until game day to see how much of an adjustment they will have to make.
“If it’s really breezy out, you have to move your feet extra well,” said junior Joe Di Giulio. “Sometimes you have to play more carefully, but you’re always trying to move your feet to get in the best position for every shot.”