Singles make the headlines. But doubles win championships.
No. 4 UCLA men’s tennis has dropped the doubles point in three of its last four dual matches against Oregon, Stanford and California. These losses stand as a stark contrast to the team’s success in doubles at the beginning of the season, where it went undefeated until mid-February.
Coach Billy Martin said he doesn’t believe the team can survive the remainder of the season if it continues to play poorly in doubles.
“I think it’s mental,” said coach Billy Martin after the California dual match Saturday. “We get up and then we relax. There’s no sense of urgency. It wasn’t their outstanding play that lost it, it was our slipshotty, unforced errors, double faults again. And that’s just not what we can do if we really expect to have a chance to win a national championship. And that’s where I am at mentally because I think this team is capable of it.”
Unforced errors have been especially detrimental to the team in doubles. In one instance, senior Karue Sell had three double faults in one game against Stanford Friday, helping the Cardinal climb back to win the doubles point.
“The number one thing that killed us in the doubles was our double faulting,” Martin said. “When you’re up, you’ve gotta make them earn it. Don’t give it to them with a double fault or an easy unforced error. That’s just unforgivable.”
Even the Bruins’ top pair and the nation’s No. 5 duo junior Mackenzie McDonald and sophomore Martin Redlicki has been flat. McDonald and Redlicki lost 6-4 in their most recent doubles match to California’s Florian Lakat and Filip Bergevi at home. The loss was their first since falling to USC’s Nick Crystal and Laurens Verboven on March 1, and only their third loss of the entire season.
“I know we’re good and we were winning every single doubles point at the beginning of the year,” said McDonald. “I’m sure it’s just a mentality thing, and we need to build that before the NC(AA)s.”
Conversely, UCLA has dominated in singles, only dropping two team points since early March. But both the players and coaches said that only dominating in singles isn’t going to cut it if the team wants a chance at winning a national title.
“We’ve got to do something and do a better job and not rely on winning four singles matches,” Martin said. “I mean that’s a scary way to be confident and really think you’ve got a shot at the NCAA championship. I’ve had teams before that have done that. I’ve seen other teams that think they can do it. It’s a very dangerous way to think that you’re going to win it.”
Sell said that complacency might be contributing toward the Bruins’ sluggish doubles play.
“We lost a bunch of games that we shouldn’t be losing,” Sell said. “I think we’re making our lives harder, that’s the main thing. I think we’ve just got to go back to the beginning of the year when we didn’t know how the team was gonna go and every point really mattered.”
UCLA visits Arizona Friday and Utah Sunday, where the combination of heat in Tucson and altitude in Salt Lake City could prove to be a tough adjustment. Even so, these should be definitive wins for the team. But if they lose the doubles point, there might be reason to worry.
The Bruins will return to Los Angeles the following week and face No. 8 USC away, who has two doubles teams in the top-100 – No. 49 Crystal and Verboven and No. 89 Max De Vroome and Jake Jaede.
Just three days after playing the Trojans, the Bruins will compete in the Pac-12 tournament, where they could have rematches with the Pac-12 teams that they lost to in doubles.
Email Levin at [email protected] or tweet him @Charles_J_Levin.