New contributors, a changing lineup and injuries have all impacted the Bruins at the start of their dual-match season.
UCLA men’s tennis (2-0) has some new faces in its spring lineup. Both Govind Nanda and Patrick Zahraj are freshmen who joined the team after the new year began. Nanda played both matches over the weekend in the singles No. 3 and doubles No. 2 spots, while Zahraj played in the singles No. 4 and doubles No. 3 in both matchups – against Indiana and San Diego.
Coach Billy Martin said it will be a tough transition, but both players have a bright future with the program.
“It’s certainly more difficult when they start midyear like this, in January, especially for a player like (Zahraj) coming from Germany,” Martin said. “Both are going to be very important for the success of our team, and as time goes by they will become more and more comfortable with everything.”
Zahraj said playing singles is different than doubles especially because he had little time to practice with the team and find doubles partners.
“It was a big mix in the first few weeks (trying to find the right partner),” Zahraj said. “But heading into the dual match last Friday it had to be figured out.”
Redshirt sophomore teammate Connor Rapp, who played doubles with Zahraj versus San Diego on Saturday, said the situation is unusual, but the players made do as best they can.
“Most of the guys on our team, if they would just throw me in I would have some experience with them,” Rapp said. “From Junior Tennis and the rest, I know many of the guys on our team, but he’s from Germany so it’s a little different.”
Zahraj said he was better prepared to play with the team immediately because of steps he had taken before the season.
“We prepared the whole month of December with the different rules and types,” he said. “I was able to do a couple of visits last year, and that mentally prepared me a lot before coming here.”
Martin said his doubles lineup could see some changes after the results from last weekend.
“Certainly No. 1 (doubles team) did well, winning both matches,” Martin said. “No. 2 struggled a little bit so we might be thinking about doing a little redecorating of the furniture there.”
The No. 1 doubles team consists of UCLA’s top two singles players, senior Maxime Cressy and sophomore Keegan Smith, and the No. 2 doubles team comprises Nanda and junior Ben Goldberg. The No. 3 doubles team was in flux this weekend, first fielding Zahraj alongside sophomore Bryce Pereira on Friday, and then Zahraj and Rapp on Saturday.
Although Zahraj has had three doubles partners through three matches, he said the mixing and matching doesn’t affect him.
“Unfortunately, I hit Pereira in the head with my serve Friday,” Zahraj said. “So, I then learn that I have to change partners again an hour and a half before the match Saturday. But really, we have a good mix-up of players that maybe I can give a concussion to.”
The spring season has started and some Bruins have caught the injury bug.
After his doubles match with Zahraj on Friday, Pereira missed Saturday’s match due to a head injury, but Martin said it is not a major problem moving forward.
“(The athletic staff) wanted to err on the cautious side, with any kind of head injury,” Martin said. “Especially with tennis not being thought of as a sport with many high-collision head injuries, but he will be back fine for us this weekend if we are able to play.”
Sophomore Connor Hance was injured in the UCLA’s opening match Friday against Indiana. Martin said the injury’s severity is unknown but could keep Hance sidelined for a prolonged time.
“Hance is a different story,” Martin said. “We know he’s got a foot injury. As to how soon he’ll be back … time will tell with that, but we know it won’t be in the near future.”