The Bruins’ first road trip of the dual match season did not start the way home matches have.
No. 7 UCLA men’s tennis (3-1) fell to No. 14 Illinois (4-1) 4-2 on Wednesday, marking its first loss of the season.
The Bruins won the doubles point to open, but senior Maxime Cressy and sophomore Keegan Smith both lost their first singles matches of the season while additional losses by junior Ben Goldberg and freshman Mathew Tsolakyan sealed the decision in favor of the Fighting Illini.
Freshman Govind Nanda claimed UCLA’s lone singles victory at No. 3 singles, extending his unbeaten singles record to 4-0 in dual-match play.
The Bruin doubles team of Nanda and redshirt sophomore Connor Rapp lost the No. 2 doubles match 6-2, but UCLA rebounded with two other wins to take the doubles point. Smith and Cressy secured a 6-2 win at No. 1 doubles, and freshman Patrick Zahraj and sophomore Bryce Pereira emerged with a 6-2 victory.
Coach Billy Martin said the team of Zahraj and Pereira showed improvement in multiple areas, which contributed to the duo’s first doubles win at the No. 3 doubles position since the first match of the year.
“They played well,” Martin said. “They did things well, they haven’t been (in the past), first-serve percentage, returning better, they are starting to settle down and get more comfortable with each other.”
Zahraj said the change in conditions and switching to playing indoors helped to elevate his game.
“It changes the way everybody plays, it’s faster, the balls are quicker,” Zahraj said. “But for me, I played indoors throughout the fall, so this was ‘going home’ for me. I definitely felt more comfortable playing.”
The Bruins were tested at the top of the singles lineup in ways they hadn’t yet seen in dual match play. Illinois’ top three singles players are ranked No. 23, No. 24 and No. 30, respectively in the latest ITA rankings.
Smith, who suffered a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 singles defeat, said the quality of opponent, along with the quicker conditions created by the indoor play were responsible for a quick and intense match.
“He played well, served pretty well, and didn’t miss too many balls,” Smith said. “It’s fast conditions, which helps my big serve, and it helped his too.”
Smith said that the loss wouldn’t hurt his attitude or his play heading into future matches.
“I think it was good we played this match,” Smith said. “I’m sure I’ll play better next time, I’m not too worried about it. I always try to move forward staying positive.”
After the loss Wednesday, the Bruins will have a quick turnaround staying in Chicago. They play Notre Dame on Friday as part of the ITA Indoor Championship.