While the other top teams in the nation are gearing up for a national championship run, UCLA men’s tennis is stuck in neutral.
The team has lacked focus and intensity during its doubles matches the past two weeks, inexplicably giving away multiple breaks with double faults and unforced errors – something junior Mackie McDonald attributed to mentally fraying away in the middle of doubles play.
“We need something to wake us up – we were winning doubles against everyone, and the rankings are coming out and we keep going higher,” McDonald said. “We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves – getting complacent a little bit with where we’re at.”
At this point in the season, the Bruins are walking a fine line between a brief period of subpar doubles play and a habit of losing doubles points.
“I just don’t feel like there’s a sense of urgency, and I think we feel too confident that we can lose the doubles point and everyone’s still going to win singles,” said coach Billy Martin.“That’s not a smart way to play, but I like what I’ve seen the last couple of days after we talked about it Saturday after the (Cal) match.”
Martin said he hopes the team can turn it around soon, as No. 4 UCLA (16-2, 4-0 Pac-12) has a match in the desert heat against Arizona (8-14, 0-4) Friday afternoon followed immediately by a late evening flight to Salt Lake City before facing Utah (16-7, 0-3) in a midday matchup on Sunday.
While the Wildcats and the Utes are not the most formidable opponents, the Bruins need to go undefeated the rest of the season for even a chance to maintain their No. 4 ranking going into the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament. A loss this weekend would drop UCLA’s ranking and put it in danger of potentially facing No. 3 Virginia – the defending NCAA champions who won their dual match earlier in the season 6-1 – in the NCAA quarterfinal instead of in the national championship game.
To alleviate the pressure of everyone gunning for the No. 4 team in the nation, senior Karue Sell said the team has to simplify the game, especially in doubles.
“We don’t have to overthink – doubles should be simpler than what we’re doing,” Sell said. “Things will go our way if we manage to make a bunch of first serves and returns. We need to execute our shots and not worry too much about what’s going on with the opponents.”
On paper, the two matchups are lopsided. Arizona’s No. 89 Naoki Takeda, who will most likely face No. 9 McDonald on court one, is the only player from either Arizona or Utah who is ranked. UCLA has four top-100 players, including No. 77 Sell, who jumped 21 spots from his previous ranking.
The matches this weekend will serve as a tune-up for next weekend’s clash at No. 8 USC, which will most likely decide which team wins the Pac-12 regular season title.