UCLA men’s tennis boosts confidence in ITA Southwest Regional Championships
Sophomore Aadarsh Tripathi locks his eyes on the ball in preparation for a forehand swing. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)
By Jeremy Chen
Oct. 29, 2023 12:13 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 2 at 9:52 p.m.
Winter is coming, and the trees are losing their leaves.
But the Bruins are entering a season of blossoming.
Seven members of the UCLA men’s tennis team traveled to Pepperdine to compete in the ITA Southwest Regional Championships from Thursday to Monday. The team said it left Malibu with a renewed sense of confidence, buoyed by deep runs from sophomores Aadarsh Tripathi and Gianluca Ballotta.
“I’m really confident in my game right now,” Tripathi said.
Despite having to pull out of the tournament during the round of 16 as a precautionary measure for minor wrist pain, Ballotta said he was proud of his play.
“I played very good – I’m happy with my performance,” Ballotta said.
The sophomore received a first-round bye and defeated UC San Diego’s Carson Lee in straight sets in the second round. He then went on to defeat Arizona’s Gustaf Strom despite falling in the first set 6-3.
Ballotta’s default vaulted Tripathi to the quarterfinals instead, who said Ballotta, his roommate, usually beats him in practice.
“If he (Ballotta) would have played, he would have been by far my toughest opponent,” Tripathi said.
Aside from the potential matchup with Ballotta, Tripathi said his biggest adversary throughout the tournament was his quarterfinal matchup against UC Santa Barbara’s Pablo Masjuan.
The Gaucho went on to place second overall and defeated Tripathi 6-4, 6-3. Tripathi said Masjuan came at him with a lot of power and force, eventually grinding him down.
“That was a really physical, tough match,” Tripathi said.
Prior to his showdown with Masjuan, Tripathi won all three of his matches in straight sets, keeping each of his opponents to three games or fewer.
The sophomore said he has a lot of confidence in the team this year, rooted in the fact that they are stronger and more mature as compared to the 2023 season. Tripathi added that in tandem with the entire team, the tournament bolstered his confidence and trust in his skills.
“It was a great tournament for the whole team, not just me,” Tripathi said.
The Bruins also brought three doubles teams to Malibu, one of which might hint at a future regular season pairing.
Ballotta and senior Jorge Plans Gonzalez – who announced his commitment to spend his final year of eligibility with UCLA on June 26 after three years playing at Clemson – formed a duo.
Despite losing in the first round, Ballotta said he sees potential in his doubles partnership with Plans Gonzalez. The sophomore said the ease of communication through their Spanish roots is a primary factor for their connection and added that they are getting more comfortable with each other.
“We’re just finding out what to do and how we work together,” Ballotta said.
Plans Gonzalez, along with freshman Spencer Johnson, are just two of the Bruins’ offseason additions that could help reshape the roster.
Johnson took all three of his matches to three sets, and coach Billy Martin said the impression he made could allow him to compete for spots in the lineup throughout the season.
“He’s (Johnson) going to really challenge each and every one of our team members for a spot on the team,” Martin said.
Plans Gonzalez provides senior leadership and experience after the departure of Patrick Zahraj, as the Barcelona native amassed 50 singles and 29 doubles wins during his tenure with the Tigers.
Martin said the added players, improved team health, and premier wins over USC’s Lodewijk Weststrate and Strom, by Tripathi and Ballotta, respectively, imbue him with confidence moving forward into the season.
“We’re going to be stronger than we were and a lot deeper,” Martin said.