On the way to class, you might pass by a statue of John Wooden, as well as a gym and a basketball court bearing his name.
But if you look closer, you’ll see the names of UCLA tennis’ greats too.
William C. Ackerman, J.D. Morgan and Arthur Ashe.
Most students probably haven’t heard of them or care enough about tennis to watch an entire dual match. The truth, though, is that UCLA men’s and women’s tennis are a couple of UCLA’s traditionally prestigious programs.
Men’s tennis has 16 national championships, the second-highest number across UCLA Athletics, and 23 individual singles and doubles titles. And, under current coach Billy Martin’s 24-year tenure, the Bruins have reached the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 every season. He is one of only four active coaches who have collegiate tennis’ coaching triple crown – a team, singles and doubles championship.
UCLA’s first NCAA championship belongs to the 1950 men’s tennis squad, coached by Ackerman. His successor, Morgan, was the first Bruin coach in any sport to win three consecutive national titles.
But the achievements are not just limited to coaches.
Men’s tennis legends Ashe and Jimmy Connors both played at UCLA and went on to become giants on the professional tour. Connors spent an ATP-record 158 consecutive weeks atop the singles rankings, and Ashe broke the color barrier by becoming the only African-American man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or Australian Open.
Women’s tennis is no slouch, either.
The Bruins have seven four-time All-Americans, including Keri Phebus, who won both the singles and doubles titles in 1995. As a student, coach Stella Sampras Webster led UCLA to four straight top-three finishes while winning the doubles championship as a freshman.
As a coach, she helmed both title-winning teams in 2008 and 2014. Her predecessor, Bill Zaima, led the Bruins to three national runner-up finishes within a decade and coached four NCAA championship doubles teams. The program as a whole is a perennial top-10 lock, having missed that landmark only twice.
Talk about a legacy.
While football and basketball have their once-in-a-generation talents such as quarterback Josh Rosen and point guard Lonzo Ball, men’s tennis and women’s tennis successfully recruit top-notch talent year-after-year.
This year’s women’s tennis roster alone has seven former blue-chip recruits – two freshmen, two sophomores and three juniors. The men, on the other hand, have four – two seniors and two juniors.
Without a doubt, men’s and women’s tennis deserve more fanfare when we talk about UCLA’s athletic prestige. But what’s most impressive to me is that they don’t need fancy facilities that cost upwards of $35 million to compete for national championships.
They just need to push all their chips to the center of the table.