Tennis can be a lonely sport.
Before college, many top-ranked junior players only participate in individual tournaments. It is them versus the opponent, and that’s it. If they mess up, the only person they can blame is themselves. If they win, they can attribute it to their individual skill. Very few of them get to experience what is like to be on a team.
Most would expect that playing on their high school teams would be these players’ first team experiences; however, that isn’t the case. The level of play in high school is significantly lower than the level of individual United States Tennis Association tournaments that the top-ranked players participate in.
“Most of the time, playing high school tennis can be detrimental to their play,” said coach Billy Martin. “That’s why you don’t see many of the top tennis players playing on the high school team.”
Martin said, for the most part, playing for the UCLA men’s tennis team is his players’ first time being on a team. For co-captain and redshirt junior Karue Sell, this is one of his first team experiences, which he has come to enjoy more than his individual play.
“When we play in the fall and we are doing the individual play, it’s all right,” Sell said. “Playing on the team though, it’s just fun.”
So far, during the fall, the team has been playing individual tournaments, oftentimes playing each other, which makes for some uncomfortable moments for the Bruins. Now that the team has finished its fall season, UCLA has started to prepare for the play that starts in January.
“The season is just fun, especially when everyone is playing well,” Sell said. “Some guys like the excitement of winning a 4-3 match. I just like it when everyone is just crushing – when we’re destroying people, like, ‘Yeah, don’t mess with us.'”
Sell and senior Dennis Mkrtchian, the other team captain, are going to be stressing the importance of team camaraderie this year. They want the younger players to understand that a win at No. 1 singles is just as important as a win at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, and that their position on the ladder shouldn’t matter.
Most of these young players on the UCLA team have ATP World Tour aspirations, but for the Bruins to perform well this year, they will need to put the team first.
“This is what college is all about: playing for your teammates and school,” Mkrtchian said. “When you win as a team, I think personally that beats when you win as an individual.”