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Behind multiple comebacks, UCLA men’s tennis overcomes Grand Canyon

Freshman Govind Nanda played at the No.
1 singles spot for the first time in his UCLA tennis career, defeating Grand Canyon’s Lorenzo Fucile 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Nanda has progressively moved up the singles order this season, beginning at No. 3 singles. (Niveda Tennety/Daily Bruin)

By Jared Tay

Feb. 27, 2019 12:04 a.m.

The Bruins’ lineup against the Antelopes didn’t contain any returning players from last year’s starting team.

No. 23 UCLA men’s tennis (5-4) defeated Grand Canyon (6-3) by a score of 4-2 on Tuesday at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. Though the Bruins’ starting lineup did boast two nonfreshmen – junior Ben Goldberg and redshirt sophomore Connor Rapp – the two did not regularly participate in last year’s starting squad.

“It was a very big win for us,” said coach Billy Martin. “(It was) the first time in my career that I played with not one returning player from last year’s team in the lineup. I can’t say I felt overly optimistic (going in).”

The Bruins were without senior Maxime Cressy and sophomores Keegan Smith and Connor Hance. Both Smith and Hance were unavailable due to injuries, while Cressy was away competing at the Oracle Challenger Series in Indian Wells, California.

Goldberg and Rapp joined to fill the No. 2 doubles spot. They were defeated by the Antelopes’ Valentin Lang and Jakub Novak by a score of 6-1.

The No. 1 doubles spot for UCLA featured sophomore Bryce Pereira and freshman Patrick Zahraj. After failing to break Grand Canyon’s serve on deuce at 4-4, the Bruins’ own serve was broken and the duo went on to lose the set 6-4. UCLA trailed Grand Canyon 1-0 heading into singles play.

Martin said that as singles play began, it looked as if the Bruins were going to lose the match.

The Bruins on courts No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 all began their singles matches trailing the Antelopes. Rapp – who filled the No. 6 spot – lost his first set, 6-2, but rallied to take a 3-0 lead in the second.

“In the first set, I couldn’t figure out a game plan to win,” Rapp said. “He was drop shotting me, lobbing me, making me really uncomfortable. (Martin) gave me a simple game plan to follow: I don’t need to hit eight shots side-to-side. Hit one or two big balls, come to the net and finish points early.”

Rapp would emerge victorious from his match by a score of 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Freshman Eric Hahn managed a comeback win of his own on court No. 5. After trailing 5-2 in the first set, Hahn forced a tiebreak at 6-6. After winning the tiebreak, he would go on to win his match 7-6(4), 6-4.

“The first set doesn’t mean a lot in my opinion,” Martin said. “You see a lot of guys amped up and they fly through the first set, but being able to do that over the whole match is difficult.”

Freshman Mathew Tsolakyan was behind 5-3 at No. 4 singles in the first set. Tsolakyan forced a tiebreak at 6-6 and would go on to win the set. Tsolakyan would go on to win his match 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-4, clinching the dual match for the Bruins.

“It was crucial for both (Hahn and Tsolakyan) to pull out those sets,” Martin said. “It was starting to look more positive out there and I tried to stay positive myself.”

On court No. 1, Nanda was able to break the serve of GCU’s Lorenzo Fucile on two separate occasions in the first set. Nanda, however, was not able to hold serve himself. After a three set battle, Nanda emerged victorious, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

“It was frustrating,” Nanda said. “I didn’t get off to a good start (on my service games), I didn’t make enough first serves and lost a lot of early points. I’m not the biggest guy so it’s tough to get out of those holes.”

Zahraj posted the only singles loss for the Bruins. Playing against Mathieu Rajaonah in the No. 2 spot, Zahraj was defeated 6-2, 7-5.

“(Zahraj) has had a little bit of an issue finishing points,” Martin said. “He’s a young freshman and he’s playing in the No. 2 spot. Some guys are lucky to ever play (at that spot) as a junior or senior, and I’ve got freshmen playing No. 1 and No. 2. I know only good things (are in store) for him.”

The Bruins will continue play at the Pacific Coast Doubles Championship this weekend.

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Jared Tay | Sports senior staff
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
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