UCLA men’s tennis had its chances against the Florida Gators, but the Bruins just couldn’t convert.
Despite not capitalizing on these opportunities in its loss to No. 11 Florida over the weekend, No. 6 UCLA still fought toe-to-toe against a lineup boasting four top-100 singles players.
“(Senior) Gage Brymer was up a break 4-3, and had two game points to go up 5-3 and he let that slip away,” said coach Billy Martin. “(Sophomore) Logan Staggs had an opportunity – two game points – to tie it up at five-all in the first set of his match. (Freshman) Evan Zhu had probably a half-dozen 30-all games that could’ve gone either way.”
Add in the fact that it was the Bruins’ first road trip this season, and Martin’s team said it isn’t worried about an away loss to one of the SEC’s top teams.
“Our loss, I think, could go either way on any given day,” said junior Austin Rapp. “Going into (the Division I National Men’s Team Indoor Championships), we’re going to play those top teams consistently so it gave us a little bit of perspective and showed us what we’re capable of.”
One reason for optimism is the team’s doubles success against the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators. Sophomore Maxime Cressy, one of the team’s strongest doubles players according to Martin, returned from an injury and helped the Bruins clinch the opening point against the Gators by winning 6-4 with Brymer on court three.
Rapp and senior Joseph Di Giulio stepped up against Georgia, defeating the Bulldogs’ Wayne Montgomery and Nathan Ponwith 6-2. Both players said they weren’t happy with their performance against New Mexico and Lamar during the ITA Kickoff Weekend and focused on their synergy in practice.
“I was a little surprised by our win because our doubles was pretty bad the weekend before,” Di Giulio said. “Austin and I started playing a lot better – we’ve been working a lot in practice on our net game. Overall, our team’s been focusing a lot more in doubles because it hasn’t been great.”
Zhu and junior Martin Redlicki continued their four-game winning streak at No. 1 doubles, beating the third and 54th-ranked teams in the country.
Without the combined 52-7 singles record Mackie McDonald and Karue Sell put up last year, UCLA has made winning the doubles point an even greater priority this season, Rapp said. It paid off against Georgia as both teams split the six singles courts.
“Getting the doubles point gives you momentum going into singles,” Rapp said. “The difference between getting three singles and four singles is enormous. Against the top teams in the country, it’s tough to go out and have the pressure to get four singles wins.”
The challenge for the rest of the year, Martin said, will be to maintain the hungry mentality.
“We just have to continue to have this attitude that we’re a good team but we really have to go out and earn every match this year,” Martin said. “We don’t have the depth and the absolute talent that we had last year, so we just got to have a little bit more sense of urgency, more so than we had last year.”