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UCLA men’s tennis opens NCAA championships with comeback win over LSU

Gianluca Ballotta lunges for a backhand. The sophomore cemented UCLA men’s tennis’ victory in the first round of the NCAA championships. (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

By Chloe Agas

May 4, 2024 12:17 p.m.

The sound of a singular tennis ball striking the court recalls the interlude of “Get’cha Head in the Game” from “High School Musical.”

In the song, Troy Bolton sings, “A second chance, gotta grab it and go. Maybe this time, we’ll hit the right notes.”

For coach Billy Martin, one end of the measure opens a segue to the chorus.

“We were really prepared mentally today to fight a tough battle – so glad we got the win,” Martin said. “I wasn’t happy we lost that match at Oregon, but we can’t harp on that for too long.”

UCLA men’s tennis (15-7, 5-2 Pac-12) ascended over LSU (16-14, 1-11 SEC) on Friday afternoon as sophomore Gianluca Ballotta clinched a serve point against his singles foe at Weller Indoor Tennis Center.

After senior Jorge Plans Gonzalez defeated LSU’s Welsh Hotard 6-0, 6-3 on court six, the match shifted to 3-3 and simmered down to Ballotta’s duel against LSU’s Chen Dong. As Dong failed to retrieve Ballotta’s serve, the spirited cheers of Ballotta’s teammates echoed throughout the courts.

“It’s always nice to be the clincher of the match,” Ballotta said. “Having my team there is one of the best things, one of the best feelings, I have experienced on the tennis courts.”

Redshirt juniors Timothy Li and Jeffrey Fradkin clinched UCLA’s doubles point with a tiebreaker 7-6(3).

The duo last played together in March 2023 against Pennsylvania but had yet to register a victory in tandem.

“It’s kind of been a long time coming since we last played – we were super excited to get together,” Li said. “We brought a lot of energy, and we’re just positive throughout the whole match and kind of fed off each other.”

Alongside their comrades, co-captains redshirt senior Govind Nanda and junior Alexander Hoogmartens secured a tiebreaking victory in a 7-6(1) fashion. Nanda also concocted a singles victory, tallying the second singles point that catapulted the comeback against the Tigers after they took a 3-1 lead against the Bruins.

Meanwhile, on court one, freshman Spencer Johnson and redshirt freshman Emon van Loben Sels couldn’t manage a win against Dong and Julien Penzlin, breaking a five-match winning streak. Johnson also couldn’t muster a win in singles play, falling to LSU’s Alessio Vasquez in straight sets.

The freshman wouldn’t be the sole Bruin to fall in singles contention. One by one, junior Giacomo Revelli and Hoogmartens also fell in action.

Despite the face of defeat, Martin said he is enthusiastic about the journey ahead, as his team will face No. 2 seed Texas on Saturday at 2 p.m.

“I look forward to the challenge, and I think our team does too,” he said. “Win, lose or draw, we’re going to go out there, really fight and give it a great UCLA Bruin effort.”

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Chloe Agas
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