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Home-court advantage: UCLA women’s tennis stands undefeated at LATC

Redshirt senior Sasha Vagramov, sophomore Tian Fangran and sophomore Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer clap their hands and cheer in celebration. UCLA women’s tennis is undefeated at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

By Jack Nelson

May 7, 2024 1:08 p.m.

This post was updated May 7 at 9:13 p.m.

Winning expectations loom at home.

That pressure – ever-burdensome for those in the spotlight – can break teams. If it is indeed felt in Westwood, it has only bent the Bruins.

They’ve endured two blows to what would otherwise be a 20-match winning streak, thriving on a singular constant along the journey.

No team has defeated them in their own territory.

Following consecutive sweeps in the first and second rounds of the NCAA championships, No. 8 seed UCLA women’s tennis enters the Sweet 16 – its final home match of the year – with a 12-0 record at the Los Angeles Tennis Center in 2024. The Bruins’ home defense plan has been bulletproof ever since last March, extending to 17 straight victories across two seasons.

“We’re just wanting to keep it going, and we have our own goals – each and every one of us,” said freshman Bianca Fernandez. “And then we have our team goal, so when we focus on that, it helps us with our confidence.”

It opened with little pomp and circumstance – a shutout of then-unranked Colorado on what became a fateful late-March afternoon. But it was immediately tested by then-No. 5 Pepperdine and rival USC in the weeks that followed, resulting in a pair of 4-3 decisions that underlined the late push of UCLA’s 2023 season.

That’s the past.

In the present campaign, no team has entered the LATC and emerged with three points in hand.

Outscoring opponents 10 times over in comfortable confines, the Bruins have fended off visitors by a 61-6 margin. Not once did they need a narrow 4-3 victory, assembling eight sweeps during that span and currently riding a streak of 17 consecutive points won.

Randomness often fuels winning streaks, but on the tennis court, it’s not a preeminent element. Doubles is a collective struggle for an early advantage, and every singles match has equal leverage on the outcome.

But there is a sense of accountability when defending home turf.

“We never want to expect someone else to win the match for us,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “They’ve got to go out and want to take it and play to win.”

A wire-to-wire reign at home hasn’t occurred since 2021, when the Bruins finished 10-0 in Westwood after sweeping both of the NCAA championships matches they hosted. That team reached the Elite Eight and fell to Pepperdine at a neutral location, the kind of setting that gave way to three of the team’s five losses that year.

The 2024 squad is eerily reminiscent, with three of its own five losses also occurring at neutral sites. And the similarities don’t end there.

UCLA has held dominion in doubles play over the past 20 contests, winning 19 doubles points and every single one at the LATC – a feat the 2021 team shares. Sampras Webster said on several occasions that it’s a point of pride for the program.

Duos, well-established at this stage after fluidity in the early going, are trusted to be accountable, shifting the practice focus with the time of experimentation behind them.

“Just keeping our team sharp and hitting every practice with really good quality, not necessarily quantity now,” Sampras Webster said. “They really just need good, quality practices because they’ve hit a lot of balls.”

Home supremacy, built on doubles discipline, continues quietly. Regularly playing in one of the country’s largest college tennis stadiums, the Bruins have triumphed despite sparse support. Thousands of seats are lucky just to hold hundreds for even the biggest of bouts.

Friends and families are reliable attendees, and students pass through every now and then, but the streak has not yet yielded a growing crowd.

But UCLA’s winning ways are built from the inside out. They come from culture, heard in every victory screech and seen in every fist pump.

Those sights and sounds have been rampant at the LATC.

“I can’t explain how much these girls mean to me,” said junior Elise Wagle. “Their impact on my game – I can’t explain it.”

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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