The journey to reach Georgia starts Friday.
The No. 5-seeded UCLA men’s tennis team (19-5) faces off in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against unseeded Army (21-9) at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center tennis courts Friday.
Coach Billy Martin emphasized the Bruins must be sharp due to the uncertainty of facing an unknown opponent.
“It’s a little unknown for both teams. We just need to believe that if we come out and play to our capability in both doubles and singles, that should do the job,” Martin said. “These first rounds are a mystery and we just need to have faith that what we are doing is enough.”
The team is relying on junior Martin Redlicki to be a leader that provides stability in the singles and doubles matches.
At the No. 2 singles court, he has a record of 18-1. He is also part of the No. 3-ranked doubles team in the nation with freshman Evan Zhu, going 18-3.
“I think the biggest thing with the NCAA Tournament is handling the situation more so than anything,” Redlicki said. “There are a lot of nontennis factors that come into play, so the teams that manage the nontennis stuff better have the upper hand in winning the match.”
The return of senior Joe Di Giulio from injury has helped bring depth into doubles rotation. Di Giulio has played at the No. 2 court in doubles with junior Austin Rapp.
Since he has returned, UCLA has won five out of the last six points in the doubles matches.
“Honestly I want to go out there and play well in doubles,” Di Giulio said. “We are just going out there with a lot of energy and try and get the win.”
However, there are still lingering concerns about Di Giulio’s health as during the Pac-12 tournament, Rapp and sophomore Maxime Cressy played in the No. 5 and No. 6 singles court spots. Di Giulio was scratched from singles and only played doubles.
For the singles lineup, Martin originally put Cressy at No. 5, Rapp at No. 6 and Di Giulio as the first alternate in his singles lineup. But with senior captain Gage Brymer out due to an upper-body medical procedure, all three are now in the singles lineup.
Brymer underwent an upper-body medical procedure that will sideline him for the NCAA Tournament, ending his college career.
“After Ojai, (California), I and our other coaches thought Max was playing the strongest out there,” Martin said. “Yes, there is a question with Joe playing back-to-back matches but I can pull out anybody out of those three and still feel secure.”
Home-court advantage in these first two rounds is something that the team is looking forward to, as it has been undefeated this season at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
“Courtwise, we are used to the court. I don’t know how big of a crowd we will have but the few guys we have are pretty rowdy, ” Di Giulio said. “Home-court advantage is pretty big. We are used to playing on these courts and the surface.”
Army has gone 21-9 this season, led by junior Michael Nguyen at the No. 1 singles court, who has a record of 16-7. Nguyen and his partner senior Grant Riechmann are also the team’s No. 1 doubles pair, going 16-6 this season.
If the Bruins beat the Black Knights on Friday, they are slated to play either UC Santa Barbara or Mississippi in the second round of the tournament Saturday afternoon. The winner of that match will advance to the round of 16, which is hosted by the University of Georgia.