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UCLA men’s tennis returns from Bay Area with losses against Stanford, California

Junior Bryce Pereira held down the No. 3 doubles spot for UCLA men’s tennis in its matches against Stanford and California, along with partner sophomore Patrick Zahraj. The duo dropped their first match against the Cardinal, but rebounded to a 6-2 win over the Bears the following day. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)

By Nico Edgar

Feb. 2, 2020 3:21 p.m.

The Bruins came home winless from their trip to the Bay Area.

With sophomore Patrick Zahraj trailing 1-5 in the third set against Stanford’s Neel Rajesh on court 5, Stanford’s Axel Geller defeated UCLA junior Keegan Smith on court 1, securing a 4-2 win for No. 11 Stanford (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12).

The loss was No. 10 UCLA men’s tennis’ (3-2, 0-0 Pac-12) second of the weekend, having fallen 4-2 to No. 15 California (2-2, 0-0 Pac-12) at the Hellman Tennis Complex on Friday.

Against the Cardinal, the Bruins sprung out to a 1-0 lead by securing the doubles point with two duos – on courts 1 and 3 – rebounding from losses to the Golden Bears.

The tandem of junior Bryce Pereira and Zahraj won their match 6-2, while the duo of freshman Drew Baird and redshirt junior Connor Rapp fell 4-6.

Pereira and Zahraj had previously lost their first doubles match of the weekend 6-2 against Cal. Pereira said Zahraj was in Germany over the summer, so these early season matches are about building chemistry between them.

“We worked on what we did poorly Friday and then executed today,” Pereira said. “We had much better chemistry and its starting to feel like how we played last year.”

The deciding match for the doubles point was on court 1, where UCLA sophomore Govind Nanda partnered with Smith to face the Cardinal’s Geller and Rajesh, went to a tiebreak.

The Bruin duo defended multiple match points after being down 6-3, and eventually secured the victory on a Smith ace, winning 7-6 (12). Nanda said the key to winning the tiebreak was playing from point to point.

“We knew were playing pretty well,” Nanda said. “We never lost confidence, it was important for us to just focus on the next point and not let the moment get the best of us.”

On Friday, the tandem had suffered their first doubles loss of the dual-match season in a 1-6 decision against Cal’s Paul Barreto and Can Kaya.

“We were a lot more engaged and energetic (Saturday),” Nanda said. “We obviously didn’t play our best to lose 6-1, but we played a lot cleaner today and got our result.”

Nanda was the only Bruin to win his singles match against the Cardinal defeating Alexandre Rotsaert – who is ranked No. 18 in singles – 6-1, 7-5.

Nanda fell to Rotsaert in the semi-finals of the Sherwood Collegiate Cup last month and said playing him recently helped his game plan today.

“I had a really solid game plan coming in, and played pretty well,” Nanda said. “He wasn’t playing as well as at Sherwood which allowed me to take the first set pretty easily, but he adjusted in the second which made it a lot tougher.”

Nanda said he focused on returning Rotsaert’s serves which helped him avenge his loss.

“I think I returned really well and wanted to focus on that,” Nanda said. “I think I executed well.”

UCLA lost all other singles matches against Stanford, but Pereira said that both matches were close and were a good opportunity to see their opponents before the conference season starts.

“Playing on the road is really tough, but both matches were a lot closer than the 4-2 shows,” Pereira said. “For us to do this well on the road is a really solid result.”

The Bruins will head to Chicago for a face-off with Western Michigan on Feb. 11.

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Nico Edgar | Sports contributor
Edgar is currently a Sports contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Edgar is currently a Sports contributor on the men's tennis beat.
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