Jan. 9, 2001
After experiencing a season mired with injuries to key players, the 2001 men's tennis team is looking to end its string of bad karma and bring an NCAA title to Westwood. As in the past, this year's team is loaded with talent, and competition for playing time will be fierce.
With five players who saw significant dual match action and with the addition of talented newcomers, the Bruins pursuit of a national championship is an attainable goal. In head coach Billy Martin's seven seasons at the helm, the common denominator of his teams has been depth, and this year's team possesses that similar characteristic. Although the Bruins lost two All-Americans from last year's squad, they are eight or nine players deep in singles this season.
Below, Coach Martin discusses his outlook on the upcoming season.
How do you feel about the upcoming season?
I'm feeling really good about our team this season. I think we will be able to compete with any team. There are some good teams out there. Stanford is going to be very good. Tennessee, who we lost to at the NCAAs, will be very good. Also Duke, Georgia, Texas A & M, TCU and Pepperdine are also very good. There are truly good teams out there that will be able to compete with any teams. These teams have as good as chance as anybody to win the NCAA Championships.
Who are the key players you lost from last season?
We did lose Jong-Min Lee, who played number one for us last year in singles and doubles, along with his partner Brandon Kramer, who played second and third singles for us last year. We lost two great players, good experienced players, but I think we have some guys who are ready to fill that void.
Who are some of your key returnees?
We have Jean-Noel Grinda back for his senior year. He finished the year strong for us last year but probably had his worst year from start to finish last year. Due to shoulder surgery in the summer, he was unable to play in our first six or seven matches in singles. After playing in some doubles, he got himself back into shape and regained confidence. By the time the NCAAs rolled around, he was like his old self. This year, he is in much better shape. He worked hard this fall. He reached the finals of our regional tournament and won the doubles there. He is really ready for his senior year and determined as anybody to help us win the NCAA championship.
Who do you expect to play in the top spots for singles?
Our newcomer Tobias Clemens, and Jean-Noel Grinda will battle for the top two spots. Right there knocking at the door to play in the top three is Jean-Julien Rojer. He did a great job for us last year at No. 3 and No. 4. He had an incredible record and is going to be ready to help us this year again.
On the remaining singles spots:
We have five other guys to fill the other three spots, it's going to be a real dogfight. Four of the five are returning guys. There is Lassi Ketola, who had a very good fall for us, especially in the regional tournament at Pepperdine. He reached the semifinals against some great players. Travis Rettenmaier, who was on our team last season but did not play singles, has really improved. Had a great tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club this fall. There were quite a few good players, and he is really looking having a top chance at playing in our top six. And then there is Efran Djahangiri, who played No. 5 and No. 6 for us last year. He had an incredible record and lost just two matches the entire year. He did not have a great fall, but he is certainly an experienced player and a great person to have playing for us under pressure.
Are there any players who will provide versatility to this year's squad?
Chris Sands, our fifth year senior. Chris has had to play for us in so many different occasions through the years. Last year, he played third doubles and No. 6 singles at the NCAAs when Brandon Kramer went down with an injury. He is playing his best tennis right now. He also had a pretty good fall.
Who are your top newcomers this season?
Clemens and Marcin Matkowski, who will start with us in January. Clemens, our player from Germany, is looking very strong, especially in singles. He could probably play number one or two for us this year. Matkowski is from Poland, and he certainly has great results. He has beaten Tobias Clemens earlier this year in a tournament in Europe. He is also very good doubles player. I think Marcin has as good a chance as anybody to play in our top six.
Describe your toughest decision as a coach this season.
Unortunately two of the five guys are probably not going to play much, and that is going to be the hard thing for me as a coach to decide. Fortunately I don't have to make that decision until January 18, the day before we play our first match. We have a big tournament in early January so that will help me see who is really looking really sharp and who is ready to go.
How do you feel about this year's team in doubles?
Doubles wise, we are going to be very strong. Grinda and Rojer are back and will probably start out at number one. Ketola and Clemens look pretty good, they are just starting off after not playing together before. I think they will be a No. 2 or No. 3 team. And I'm hoping to put Travis Rettenmaier with Marcin Matkowski. Travis is certainly a great doubles player, and Matkowski from his results should really help us. I'm hoping that will be a good combination.
That would leave Erfan and Chris out of doubles, but both have done a great job for us in doubles. Erfan had a great fall in doubles and probably improved his doubles more than his singles since last year. It is going to be difficult, to pick and choose who is going to play those last few spots in singles and also the doubles. Especially until we see Matkowski and he gets here. A lot of times how it looks on paper is different than when they get the personalities together in doubles.
You spoke in detail about the depth of this year's team. Are there any key matches on the schedule that will test the Bruins?
We start the season with the Sherwood Collegiate Cup on January 13. This tournament will really allow me to see how our team will respond to tough competition at such an early point in the season.
The National Indoor Championships in February is also an important date on our schedule. Many of the top teams in the country are expected to participate, so if we do well there I can have a better assessment of our teams progress before heading into our long stretch of dual matches.
Our dual matches against USC, Stanford and Cal are going to be tough. These teams have great players, so it is imperative that we are playing at the top of our game to get victories in these matches.
I think our guys are also looking forward to the match against Pepperdine. We were ranked No. 1 last season and they came to LATC and handed us our first loss, so our guys are definitely looking forward to redeeming themselves. Our overall goal is to finish with the best record in our region so we get an opportunity to host the NCAA Regionals. We have been the host for three straight seasons, so we want to keep that streak alive.
It's going to be a tough season, but luckily, we have the depth to accept the challenge. Because of our depth, there will be two guys who might not play but will keep a good attitude. If there is an injury, those guys will certainly get a chance to play, even if it is our seventh our eighth guy. If we can avoid injuries and play solid tennis, I'm very optimistic about our chances once the NCAAs roll around.