Nov. 2, 2011
By Amy Hughes
Michael Hui has always been a tennis player.
But he hasn't always been a varsity tennis player.
Hui, a junior from Oakland, had participated in summer camps run by UCLA head men's tennis coach Billy Martin but was not in a position to make the varsity roster at UCLA.
"I've known Michael for quite some time," said Martin. "He came to my summer tennis camp before his college days. As a camper here during the summer, he was one of our best players, but also just an incredibly hard worker. You have 100 kids and half of them enjoy tennis but 2-3 hours of tennis is enough for them. [Michael] was the type of kid who really could not get enough."
Hui structured his high school schedule with independent study classes in order to accommodate his tennis.
"I had offers from other schools to go play tennis, but I got into UCLA with my grades," said Hui. "Obviously, UCLA is one of the best as a school and as a tennis program. I knew I didn't quite have the results or level of play to compete on the team, but I figured I'd try to get on the roster. My plan when I came in to UCLA was to go to school and play as much tennis as I could on the side. I knew that I could do it on my own if I found the right resources and worked hard."
Upon arrival in Westwood, Hui knew there was not an available spot on the team roster but reconnected with Martin while he was spending a great deal of time at the Los Angeles Tennis Center (LATC) working on his game.
"I went into their offices and was asking about who was in the area to hit with," recalls Hui.
That is where Director of Tennis Operations Grant Chen stepped into the picture.
A dynamic personality who has been an off-court fixture of the Bruins men's tennis program for a decade, Chen was also coaching UCLA's club tennis program and convinced Hui to try club tennis.
"That was all Grant," said Hui. "He gave me a bunch of contact information (on players to hit with) and told me I should do club. I told him I'd try it because I really liked Grant and his energy, and I figured at least I could get some practice in. I kept doing the club and I liked it."
With Hui on its roster, that UCLA club tennis team finished third at the national tournament, falling to eventual champion California in the semifinals. The following season, Hui led that same group of players to a national championship.
Soon, he learned that there was a spot for him on Martin's varsity roster.
"Michael just loved UCLA and really wanted to come here even though he knew there were no guarantees," said Martin. "He has worked really hard. He communicated with me, and I saw him practicing on his own quite a bit with our team members at non-practice times. He just had a great attitude, and I thought that even if he doesn't play matches for us on a consistent basis, he could be a leader just with his work ethic. He isn't going to be discouraged and has a no-giving-up attitude."
"I was happy and relieved," said Hui of his invitation to the varsity roster. "I felt like I'd been improving on my own the past two years. Now, this will be a good opportunity for me to play at another level and prove myself. Even though I'm on the roster, Coach isn't looking at me as a top person, being able to really compete and start. It's still the first quarter of my first year on the tennis team, and I have a lot to prove to him and to myself that I really can compete on this level."
Hui has not only spent countless hours on the courts at the LATC, he has spent a great deal of his summer playing men's open and Futures tournaments as an amateur, honing his tennis skills. But those hours spent on the courts with UCLA's varsity players also played a large role in his invitation to the team.
"Some of the guys on the team really came to me and lobbied for Michael," said Martin. "They played and worked with him during the school year in non-practice times and saw him during the summer. My assistant coach (Kris Kwinta) also felt he would be a good member of our team. I wanted him, the guys wanted him and outside people thought he would be a good addition to our team. We knew he would fit with our team chemistry, and it just made my decision that much easier."
An outstanding student, majoring in French, Hui is adjusting quickly to his new role, both on and off of the courts.
"I feel a little closer to the team now because I see them every day," said Hui. "As for the level of play, I knew what to expect. Time management is very important. I'm using a lot of my weekend time to stay on top of my schoolwork, and my days are more jam-packed. We have 7 a.m. weights three times a week, and I'm tired after every single day, that's for sure."
"Besides the tennis, he's an incredibly bright young man academically," said Martin. "Michael is as good of a student as we have on the team. I think the other younger players see that and see his time management with school and tennis, and that's really helpful from a coaching standpoint."
As for Hui's continued growth on the court, Martin is optimistic.
"He and I both know that he still has a lot of things to work on with his game," said Martin. "But nobody works harder on or off the court conditioning-wise or tennis-wise. He is certainly not happy with just being on the team. He's striving to fill the holes in his game and get better. If he doesn't necessarily have a great contribution to playing in our team matches this year, it might happen next year. He's a level-headed enough kid that he realizes it might not be a lot of matches this year, but hopefully next year he'll be able to participate and contribute even more to the team."
Hui has participated in two of UCLA's early-season tournaments. In late September at the Land Rover Napa Valley Classic, he won his first match before falling in a tight three-set match to the top player from UC Irvine. Playing in his old "back yard" at the Gael Tennis Classic in Moraga, Calif., (hosted by Saint Mary's), Hui once again won his first match before falling to Cal's top seed, Riki McLachan, in two sets.
"Michael has deserved whatever breaks he's had," said Martin. "He has worked super hard this year and has really improved."
With continued improvement, Hui has his goals set on continued improvements on the court.
"Tennis is what I've always wanted to do," said Hui. "All of the hard work is completely worth it."