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Fortified by freshman successes, UCLA men’s tennis takes on Pepperdine

Spencer Johnson smashes a forehand serve. The freshman has conceded just one match this season en route to a nearly flawless debut season. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Men's Tennis


Pepperdine
Saturday, 12 p.m.

Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center
Live Stats/Video

By Ira Gorawara

Feb. 17, 2024 8:53 p.m.

Spencer Johnson craftily envisions success on the court.

“I do a lot of visualizations to help me see how I want to look out there, like my body language and how I want to play,” he said.

The meditative practice has spurred a nearly undefeated freshman campaign.

Johnson – who has conceded just one match alongside four singles tallies and three doubles victories – and fellow newcomer, redshirt freshman Emon van Loben Sels, have bolstered UCLA men’s tennis (3-2) as it prepares to face Pepperdine (1-4) on Sunday at Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center. Van Loben Sels is the sole Bruin with an unblemished winning record this season among those who have had multiple appearances.

The freshmen – who are also doubles partners – have bagged three consecutive doubles wins, with two unfinished matches also on their slate.

Sunday afternoon’s matchup comes unplanned, as both UCLA and Pepperdine missed contention on this year’s ITA National Indoor Championship. The four-day tournament features the nation’s top 16 programs, but neither the Bruins nor the Waves managed a berth.

“They’re a good team so we’ve got to really be ready,” said coach Billy Martin. “We’ve had so many great battles with them throughout the years. So that’s our next goal – to keep our momentum going.”

UCLA’s narrow 4-3 last season was engraved by a doubles point and then-freshman Azuma Visaya’s match-clinching singles victory. Following a singles sweep against LMU, Visaya said this year’s crew has a lofty goal in mind.

“Our goal is to win the national championship and I think we’re capable of doing that,” Visasya said. “So it pushes everybody to do their best in practice and matches and even off the court, too.”

Barring the La Jolla Open Doubles Championships, the Bruins will commence a seven-game home stretch following their encounter with the Waves. The homestand will conclude when the squad heads crosstown to USC in late March, shortly after the onset of Pac-12 play.

UCLA will look to its man in form come Sunday.

Johnson ascended to the No. 2 singles spot before the team’s last matchup and ultimately dispatched LMU’s senior Sebastian Nothhaft in straight sets.

“He (Johnson) is showing me some incredible things that as a freshman, you don’t really see,” Martin said. “He’s got such a big game, a huge serve, great volleys, puts a lot of pressure on his opponents.”

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Ira Gorawara | Assistant Sports editor
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
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