March 15, 2012
UCLA men's tennis player Dennis Mkrtchian (pronounced Ma-KURCH-an) currently leads the team in singles wins with a 22-8 overall record. He is also 10-2 in dual matches, playing primarily at the Nos. 4-6 positions. The freshman from Reseda, Calif. recently sat down with uclabruins.com to discuss a number of topics, including how he got involved in the game, why he left high school to train full time, and if a career in professional tennis is in his future.
How did you initially get involved in tennis?
"I was about six years old and I would play with my Dad because he liked to hit. One day at the courts we ran into a coach and he came over and said he would coach us (Mkrtchian's brother, Ken, is also a tennis player at George Washington). I was only six years old so I don't know how much potential he saw in me, but he definitely saw that I was enthusiastic. He must have seen something because he was also extremely enthusiastic about coaching me. We literally practiced every day for about a year. The next thing you know tennis just took on a life of its own."
At one point you were persuaded to leave high school and train full time with the USTA. How did that come about?
"I actually went to a normal high school for about two years and then one of the USTA coaches, Roger Smith, mentioned to me that if I wanted to compete with other high-level guys out there that it was going to take a lot of work and dedication and that I should think about doing home study. So I did independent study for my whole 11th grade. I did improve a lot and my results improved as well. Everything was great until I got injured. Actually I had multiple injuries. I was out for six months with my first injury and then another six months with another injury (Mkrtchian fractured several bones in his foot and then tore a pectoral muscle). It was unfortunate because they came at a time when I was playing well and I definitely think that if I hadn't gotten injured, I could've made a much bigger splash in the junior Grand Slams and some pro tournaments. So after that I went back to my normal high school. Honestly, I prefer the normal high school experience. I still practiced hard after school and I was able to hang out with my buddies and live the high school life. Independent study was good too because I had less distractions, it was fun and my game improved a lot. But I think high school is an important experience to go through. Also, I feel like if you are going to do the independent study thing, you definitely have to have one goal and that's to be a professional. That was my goal too but injuries kind of prevented that."
You graduated from the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies. It doesn't sound like your typical high school. What was that experience like?
"It's a magnet school. It's actually public but kind of feels like a private school because not everyone can get in. I went to school with guys who lived an hour away who wanted to go there for the academic experience. It was actually the school I attended before doing the independent study and they let me come back after that, which was really great of them to accept me again. So yeah, it's a great academic school and something that fit me perfectly because I was huge in academics in high school. And obviously I still am because I'm at a school like UCLA."
How would you describe your game and your demeanor on the court? You're definitely one of the more energetic players to watch.
"I feel like I'm extremely aggressive with my biggest strength being my forehand. I have a pretty big serve and definitely earn a lot of free points that way. I feel like my backhand and my volleys are solid but can both be improved. Every part of my game can be improved obviously, but I feel like the strength of my game centers around my forehand and my serve. As far as my emotions go, I'm always pumped for a match. In college tennis you have to be pumped up and energetic. All the guys at UCLA do a good job of helping each other out and cheering on each other when we're out there competing. I'm more emotional on the court. So I guess you could say I'm definitely more loud than quiet."
Injuries prevented you from possibly skipping college and turning pro early. Is that still the goal someday?
"Definitely. That's why I came to UCLA because I see it as a great place to hone my skills and get better. Hopefully that translates to having some success on the pro tour some day."