Doubles is a game of chess for coach Billy Martin.
There are no partner changes or major adjustments in the lineup this time of year for the UCLA men’s tennis coach.
It’s all about the details, the game planning and out-strategizing your opponents to put the pressure on the other side of the net and get that early edge in dual matches.
Warmups and early games are especially crucial in doubles, with both teams having the opportunity to scout the players opposite them.
But whether it’s playing against the top team in the country for a national title or playing in an out-of-conference matchup, the approach is the same for the No. 5 seed.
“We’re not going to change combination based on our opponents,” Martin said. “We’re going to look at who’s stronger at net, forehand, backhand, making returns, being aggressive, that kind of thing – keep them honest.”
The Bruins (19-5, 6-0 Pac-12) have dropped the doubles point in four of their five losses this year, including in the Pac-12 final against the Trojans.
The slow start in Ojai, California, carried over in singles, with USC taking four of six first sets before eventually winning the title 4-3.
UCLA’s first opponent in the NCAA Tournament, Army, won’t be as familiar as USC and the players will rely on the first couple of rallies to feel out and find their opponents’ weaknesses.
“It’s the little things to pick up on in the first couple of things and you try to build on that,” said junior Martin Redlicki. “You want to get that balance of how much of a liability your opponent’s weakness is and how much of a strength your strength will help you.”
For Redlicki and partner freshman Evan Zhu, who have only dropped two matches on court one in dual-match play this season, it’s their combination of deep groundstrokes and abilities to finish points at the net.
But exploiting other teams’ weaknesses starts with the Bruins focusing on their own game.
Making as many first serves as possible will allow UCLA to dictate the point while making deep returns will push their opponents away from the net and give the Bruins opportunities to close out points early.
“It’s us making sure we’re doing the right things,” said senior Joe Di Giulio, who often partners with junior Austin Rapp on court two. “There’s not too much focusing on them rather than focusing on what you want to do the right way.”
But whether it’s focusing on their own game or taking advantage of their opponents, the underlying focus for all three doubles teams is the same – winning the match and giving UCLA the early edge.