The kings of the regular season aim for another title.
No. 2 UCLA men’s tennis (23-2, 8-0 Pac-12) will head to Ojai, California, on Wednesday to seek its second Pac-12 Tournament championship in three seasons.
Following a victory against Utah to clinch the regular-season conference title, the Bruins enter the postseason on a 12-match win streak en route to the No. 1 seed for the Pac-12 Tournament. In the tournament’s seven-year history, UCLA has earned the top seed five times.
Earning a first-round bye in the nine-team single elimination bracket, UCLA will face the winner of Utah (19-8, 2-6) and Arizona (15-14, 0-8) on Thursday, both of which were swept by UCLA in conference play.
“Those are the last two teams we played in the Pac-12, so I think we’re very familiar with both opponents,” said coach Billy Martin. “We must come out thinking that (either team) is going to play their best match of the year when they face us.”
The Bruins hold a 9-1 record against teams in the tournament, with their lone defeat coming from No. 4 Stanford in an early season nonconference matchup. With Stanford seeded second and on the opposite side of the bracket, the teams could potentially face each other a third time in the championship match.
“We’ve already beat all of the teams before, so I don’t see why we can’t do it again,” said freshman Keegan Smith. “Everyone in the Pac-12 is good, but everyone is also beatable.”
UCLA looks to avenge a second-place finish in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament to third-seeded crosstown rival USC. Despite singles victories by seniors Martin Redlicki and Logan Staggs, and junior Maxime Cressy, the Bruins dropped the double point and conceded the match 4-3.
“It was a tough defeat, and I think we’d like to turn that around this year,” Martin said. “One of our goals this year was a return to Ojai to get a chance to win the tournament.”
In neutral site matches, the Bruins currently stand at a 3-1 record. However, Martin said the team is looking forward to competing at the familiar Ojai courts.
“We know Ojai very well,” Martin said. “Every one of our team members has played there multiple times.”
This time around, the Bruins look to avoid a postseason upset and clinch the automatic bid for the NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament.
“We’ve had a target on our backs all season, and we’ve done pretty well with it,” said senior Austin Rapp. “It’s nothing different – we’re just going to take care of business and (try) to make some memories.”