The toughest stretch of the season awaits the Bruins.
No. 2-seeded UCLA men’s tennis (28-2, 8-0 Pac-12) will likely have to defeat four top-15 opponents at the NCAA championship in order to claim its first national title since 2005.
“We’re not trying to look too far ahead because we have a pretty tough draw,” said freshman Bryce Pereira. “Every team as of right now is going to be really good.”
UCLA can trace a similar period of formidable competition back to the ITA indoor championship. The team defeated three top-10 foes before falling to Wake Forest – the No. 1 overall seed – in the championship match.
“The national indoor championship was a great dress rehearsal for the NCAAs,” said coach Billy Martin.
Senior Martin Redlicki said he hopes to carry the mentality of indoor play into the NCAA tournament.
“During indoors, we took it one match at a time, and we just focused on each opponent,” Redlicki said. “We’re talented enough to compete with and beat any team in the country.”
UCLA will be competing on the outdoor courts of Wake Forest for the remainder of the season. The team currently holds a 12-2 record in matches outside of Los Angeles Tennis Center.
“The weather is pretty much the only thing different (at Wake Forest),” Pereira said. “It’s going to be pretty humid out there, but otherwise it’s just another tennis court.”
The team is familiar with bad weather derailing its season.
In the 2017 NCAA tournament, UCLA fell to Georgia in the quarterfinal after a five-hour rain delay disrupted its momentum. Despite winning the doubles point, the Bruins could not regroup in singles after the break, mustering only one singles point en route to the 4-2 defeat.
The defeat marked the second consecutive season that UCLA had fallen in the Elite Eight. In 2016, the then-No. 3 seed Bruins were upset 4-3 by then-No. 11 seed Oklahoma.
Upperclassmen have emphasized the unpredictable nature of the NCAA tournament.
“I told the team that you could be up (or down) a set 5-2, but don’t expect the match to be over,” Redlicki said. “Anything can happen in the NCAAs. … In my three years I’ve seen some crazy things occur.”
Martin said his players have sufficiently prepared throughout the season for a postseason run and simply need to execute.
“I think it’s more mental than anything else,” Martin said. “We just have to stay relaxed and just try to keep it the same way we’ve been doing.”
UCLA will look to extend its winning streak to 18 games when it faces off against No. 15-seeded Michigan on Friday.