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Entering the postseason, freshmen of UCLA men’s tennis face win-or-go-home test

Redshirt senior Patrick Zahraj and freshman Gianluca Ballotta high-five after a point. The pair has won two of three completed matches together at the No. 2 spot heading into the Pac-12 championships. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

Men's Tennis


No. 3 seed Utah
Thursday, 6 p.m.

Libbey Park (Ojai, CA)
Pac-12 Championships - Men's Court 1

By Jeremy Chen

April 27, 2023 10:23 a.m.

Sink or swim?

Those may very well be the options sitting on the table for the Bruins.

No. 6 seed UCLA men’s tennis (12-9, 3-5 Pac-12) will take on No. 3 seed Utah (21-4, 6-2) for the second time in less than a week as it begins play at the Pac-12 championships. The stakes are high, as a victory over No. 19 Utah could make UCLA a more convincing selection for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The quarterfinal matchup takes place Thursday at 6 p.m. in Ojai, California.

Last Saturday’s match against the Utes came down to court three, where victory slipped from the Bruins’ hands. Coach Billy Martin said it was a painful match to lose and noted how hard it was to see freshman Aadarsh Tripathi bear the brunt of the match’s fate.

“One point away with a young freshman who’s got as much spirit as anyone on our team, cares as much as anybody – it hurts,” Martin said.

But with pain comes gain, and the disheartening loss struck right as the team approaches the high pressure of a win-or-go-home atmosphere.

Redshirt senior Patrick Zahraj said the team’s match against Utah was serendipitous because of its proximity to the postseason.

“It just came at the right time to learn from it, especially with our freshman class,” Zahraj said.

If history is any indicator, the newcomers may have to show out again in another potentially close match this Thursday.

The blue and gold only has a handful of contests this season that finished with a score of 4-3, but all of the clinching matches were accounted for by freshmen. Although Tripathi’s match marked its first loss, UCLA still holds a 3-1 record in such scenarios, with freshmen Azuma Visaya and Gianluca Ballotta tallying the defining wins.

Zahraj added that he hopes the team can apply that experience to soothe any nerves that may arise in postseason play.

“When we get into these situations again down the stretch in the tournament setting, … we are a little more comfortable in these moments,” Zahraj said.

Despite the pressure, Ballotta said he’s looking forward to the postseason.

The freshman added that he’s excited for the breadth of opponents in the tournament, both old and new.

“I know there are going to be a lot of tough teams like this (Utah),” Ballotta said. “I’m really excited to play all these new guys.”

Successful revenge against Utah on Thursday would represent a defining leap for the team, while a loss would be another down in a season of many.

Time will tell if the young Bruins are up to the task.

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Jeremy Chen
Chen is a Photo editor and a sports contributor on the men's tennis beat. He is a fourth-year cognitive science student pursuing a minor in film, television, and digital media, and he is from Alameda, California. He was previously an assistant Photo editor on the Sports beat.
Chen is a Photo editor and a sports contributor on the men's tennis beat. He is a fourth-year cognitive science student pursuing a minor in film, television, and digital media, and he is from Alameda, California. He was previously an assistant Photo editor on the Sports beat.
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