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Trio of UCLA men’s tennis freshmen secure season wins, drive individual success

Freshman Gianluca Ballotta watches the ball as he prepares for a forehand. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

By Alexsia Drulias

May 4, 2023 4:55 p.m.

This post was updated May 4 at 10:36 p.m. 

The Bruins’ season could be titled as the tale of the three freshmen.

Although UCLA men’s tennis coach Billy Martin upholds the cliche that with age comes experience, three freshmen wouldn’t have taken over half of the singles spots in nearly every match if he didn’t think their efforts would be rewarded.

“I’ve got to be honest, without knowing ahead of time, I didn’t expect all three of them to play such a major role on our team,” Martin said. “I’ve been doing this for such a long time – not usual to see freshmen stepping in there.”

Of UCLA’s 12 wins this season, 25% of those were clinched by one of the three newcomers. Freshman Azuma Visaya secured the win for the Bruins against Yale and Arizona State, and Aadarsh Tripathi did the same against Oklahoma State. In all three of those matches, the third member of the rookie trio, Gianluca Ballotta, put up his own point on the scoreboard for the Bruins.

The successes haven’t come without being forced into a variety of adjustments. Martin said whether traveling a short distance across town or making a cross-country trek, the journey is taxing for upperclassmen – let alone the rookies. After knowing what the trips look like, they’ll be better prepared for next season, he added.

And yet, the travel procedures might not even be the largest adjustment for at least one of the freshmen. Ballotta, hailing from Peru, hadn’t even experienced any form of a team sport before coming to UCLA.

“Tennis is kind of a lonely sport, but college tennis is very different,” Ballotta said. “This is the first time I have had a team experience.”

Since Ballotta typically resides on court five while Visaya cruises on court four at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, the two freshmen reflect each other’s energies, especially since their game styles and experience levels are of comparable status.

“Me and Gianluca always say it’s nice to play next to each other,” Visaya said. “We like to just battle every point, and seeing another freshman doing it next to me is even better.”

When watching the Bruins, it doesn’t take long to determine how greatly the character styles differ between the three. Martin says Ballotta is a bit quieter than Tripathi and Visaya, which allows for a variety of on-court styles.

“I’ve never had a large crowd before coming to UCLA,” Tripathi said. “I try to get the crowd involved and have them enjoy their time here. Make them feel like they made a difference too.”

Even though Tripathi is typically separated from the other two on the court, he still is able to use his companions to propel his individual successes, paired with his internal motivation.

“I feel like I’m a very energetic person and player, and we all use each other’s energy,” said Tripathi. “Azuma’s very motivated off court, GL’s (Gianluca Ballotta) motivated in his own ways, and I’m more vocal about it – we’re all motivated in different ways.”

Setting the sport aside, different personalities have zero implications for how close the freshmen are. They have a variety of traditions that range from listening to their pre-match hype songs to frequenting Korean barbecue as their post-match meal. The quality time and the in-between moments are where the freshmen have been able to understand each other.

“They’re fun people to be with, and I just love the fact that they really seem to be happy here at UCLA,” Martin said. “To name one favorite thing, that’s a tough one for me to nail down.”

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