Keegan Smith said if there’s one thing he wants to feel secure about after this weekend, it would be his footwork and stamina.
The junior has been a representative of UCLA men’s tennis in two fall ITA tournaments and will head to his third this weekend – the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships in Newport Beach, California. Play at the Newport Beach Tennis Club will run from Wednesday through Sunday.
“My movement and conditioning, that’s always been a big factor in my game,” Smith said. “Just when the dual match season comes, I’ll be really good with my fitness level and feeling really good.”
Smith will enter play ranked No. 20 in singles and said he wants to continue to focus on his footwork and stamina over the course of the weekend.
At the Oracle ITA Masters held from Sept. 26 through Sept. 29, Smith fell to USC’s Daniel Cukierman in three sets, finishing as the runner up. Smith won the first six of eight games in the match, but said his conditioning wasn’t on the same level as Cukierman’s.
“In the third set, I was really tired,” Smith said. “I made a joke in the press conference, and I was like, ‘Look at the guy, he’s ripped.’ I just need to get in that condition. A lot of these guys are ready to play day after day and match after match, but my body isn’t there yet.”
Smith said a player’s fitness plays a slightly smaller role in the dual match season, as players are expected to play just one singles match in a day. But during the season of individual tournaments, players are often tasked with playing multiple matches in a day.
Smith also saw action at the ITA Men’s All-American Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but withdrew after winning his opening two singles matches because of concerns with an ankle injury. And while Smith said his priority was to feel well-conditioned before January, coach Billy Martin said the staff has had to find a balance in pushing Smith, while also allowing him time to recover.
“We’re encouraging him, is the word I’d like to use,” Martin said. “At the same time, it’s difficult to be pushing him when he’s nursing an ankle injury. A lot of conditioning is footwork and endurance, so it’s an oxymoron to say we’re pushing him and getting him in the greatest shape.”
Smith was the only Bruin to be selected to the 64-player men’s draw for Wednesday’s tournament and said he hopes the opportunity to compete against high-caliber players will motivate the younger players on the UCLA squad.
“It’s kind of similar to my freshman year when (then-senior Martin Redlicki) was playing all of these tournaments,” Smith said. “I was just watching him get all these results, so hopefully it will motivate the guys to keep playing and getting better – just like (Redlicki) did to me. I wanted to play the tournaments he was playing at and seeing him motivated me to play better.”
Having already seen one championship match in the fall ITA tournaments, Martin said he’s confident at Smith’s chances to go far.
“These individual tournaments are a little more stressful physically than our dual matches,” Martin said. “But going in head to head, I feel like (Smith) is capable of beating anybody in the country.”