An undefeated Pac-12 record sounded good to UCLA men’s tennis coach Billy Martin, and that’s exactly what he has heading into the last week of regular season competition.
The No. 7 Bruins (16-4, 5-0 Pac-12) defeated the unranked Utah Utes (15-9, 1-5) 4-2 and Arizona Wildcats (9-15, 0-6) 4-0 on Friday and Sunday to maintain their spot atop the Pac-12 rankings.
“If somebody had told me we’d be 5-0 going into the USC match – I would be excited if someone told me two months ago and I’m excited now,” Martin said. “I feel like we’ve done some really good things and we’ve pulled it together and I think it’s been a real team effort. To me, Friday playing Utah was the epitome of that.”
But the biggest takeaway for the Bruins may be the return of a doubles and singles lineup mainstay.
Senior Joe Di Giulio played in his first dual match in more than two months, teaming with junior Austin Rapp at No. 2 doubles for a 6-1 victory against Utah and a 6-3 win against Arizona. The senior initially injured his arm against then-No. 11 Florida and only started to hit three weeks ago.
“I probably didn’t touch a racket for about six weeks, started hitting like maybe three weeks ago and then started serving a week into that,” Di Giulio said. “When you’re out two months, not being able to practice or do anything at all, you almost feel like your team kind of forgets about you. So I definitely had that motivation to get back out there.”
Martin said that he wanted to make sure Di Giulio could hit his serve before putting him back into the lineup – before his injury, the senior was 2-1 at No. 4 singles and was ranked No. 90 in the country.
With Di Giulio taking senior Gage Brymer’s spot in doubles, Martin said Brymer was able to focus more on his singles play. That paid off when the 20th-ranked player in the country defeated Utah’s David Micevski 7-6 (2), 6-3 to clinch UCLA’s win Friday.
Brymer’s win was crucial as two of the Bruins’ most consistent players, juniors Martin Redlicki and Logan Staggs, didn’t have their best days, according to Martin. Redlicki lost his first match of the season at No. 2 singles, 7-5, 6-1 to the Utes’ Dan Little, while Staggs lost his first set but was up 3-2 in the third when the dual match was decided.
On Sunday, Martin shifted freshman Ben Goldberg to the No. 6 singles court and senior Michael Guzman to Goldberg’s position at No. 3 doubles alongside sophomore Maxime Cressy. The newly formed duo did not finish its doubles set, but Goldberg picked up his first career dual-match singles victory 6-1, 6-1 over Andres Reyes.
“It’s Michael’s senior year, he’s been such a great teammate and I wanted to make him go out and be able to play a match that really counted,” Martin said. “And Ben, he’s done such a great job in doubles – I can’t say I expected him to win 6-1 and 6-1, and that really showed me a lot. I thought he’d be a little nervous, his first singles match playing in a dual match, and boy he must’ve been all business and didn’t let up at all.”
Redlicki avenged his loss Friday with a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Arizona’s Will Kneale, and freshman Evan Zhu clinched UCLA’s win with a straight-sets victory at No. 3 singles – his third consecutive victory.
“I’m feeling more confident in my game and playing how I want to play instead of worrying about wins and losses,” Zhu said. “It’s nice to have that feeling.”
With a date against Cal Lutheran (5-15, 1-5 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) looming Wednesday before a third bout with USC on Friday, Martin said he will try to get as many players into the dual match as possible.
“It’ll be another match for us to get in some guys that haven’t played this year,” Martin said. “Players like (sophomore) Danny Gealer, (senior) Travis Martin and a couple other guys who really have done a great job for two, three or four years.”