The Pac-12 champions sauntered around the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center tennis courts Tuesday. In between serves and practice sets, the men’s tennis team joked and laughed – confidence seemed to be in no short supply.
No. 2 UCLA men’s tennis will host Weber State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon.
The Bruins have not played a dual match since their 4-1 victory over then-No. 16 California to claim the Pac-12 tournament title.
“We haven’t had a match in a few weeks, so definitely just go out there, get back in the match mode competition because it’s a lot different playing practice matches,” said junior Joseph Di Giulio. “So this weekend we just want to get a good start to the tournament, get some confidence and then build on it hopefully for Tulsa, (Oklahoma).”
Weber State is also coming off a conference championship after downing Idaho 4-3 in the Big Sky tournament May 1. But UCLA’s tougher schedule and higher-ranked players make the Bruins a strong favorite in the matchup.
“Looking at the teams they played and the teams that we’ve played, I have to say that I’m not overly concerned about that match,” said coach Billy Martin. “We want to get the feel of playing a match with doubles and singles and have that be a good warmup for us.”
The Wildcats may not provide the Bruins with much of a challenge in the opening round, but UCLA could face either No. 30 University of San Diego or No. 34 Vanderbilt in the second round.
UCLA blanked University of San Diego 7-0 in early February, dominating in both doubles and singles. But the Toreros are not a team to overlook, despite the shellacking earlier in the season.
The team boasts two top-100-ranked singles players in No. 65 Uros Petronijevic and No. 71 Jordan Angus and the No. 40 doubles duo of Angus and Filip Vittek.
Vanderbilt is no joke either. Like USD, the Commodores have two top-100-ranked players in No. 36 Daniel Valent and No. 84 Cameron Klinger and a threatening No. 7 doubles pair in Klinger and Rhys Johnson.
“We have confidence against (USD), but we know they’re a good team as well so either way, if we play them or Vanderbilt, it’s going to be a tough match,” Di Giulio said.
The team struggled with doubles toward the end of the season, so a sluggish start could spell trouble. The Bruins have been keying in on doubles during practice over the last couple weeks after dropping four doubles points in their last 10 matches of the season.
“We’ve just been trying to do a good amount of doubles drills, quickening up our hands up at net, trying to get the guys to want to cross more, take more – not chances – but to be a little bit more aggressive,” Martin said. “When we’ve played good doubles, we’ve had really good energy from the start.”
But for some, this match is more than black and white strategies and key matchups.
For senior Karue Sell and redshirt senior Ryoto Tachi, this tournament will mark the end of their collegiate tennis careers as Bruins.
“It’s weird because it really goes by fast,” Sell said. “It feels like I played my first NC(AA)s not too long ago. It’s sad, but it’s exciting, so hopefully I can end with a championship.”