January 8, 1999
With five players who saw significant dual match action returning and the addition of newcomers capable of making an impact, the strength of the 1999 UCLA men's tennis team will be its depth. Although three players from last year's team completed their eligibility, the Bruins are eight or nine players deep in singles this season.
Gone from last year's squad are All-Americans Vince Allegre and Matt Breen along with Alex Decret, who played in the No. 2-5 singles positions and contributed in doubles throughout the season. Although significant, those loses leave room for returnees to move up and newcomers to blend into the lineup this season. The future bodes well for the Bruins as only one of this year's group will complete his eligibility this season.
According to head coach Billy Martin, "We can compete with anybody singles wise and I feel stronger about our doubles play than last year. I'm very optimistic and don't see any team I don't think we can compete against. We'll need time to gel in doubles, but that will come together." Leading the way for the Bruins in 1999 is sophomore captain Jean-Noel Grinda who returns in the No. 1 singles and doubles slots after earning All-America honors in both as an impact rookie last year. Projected in the top-three singles is this year's impact freshman Zack Fleishman. One of the top junior players in the nation, Fleishman is also expected to contribute in doubles while making a splash on the collegiate scene. The lone senior on the roster is Jason Cook, who started in the No. 4 slot last year before suffering a broken wrist. Now healthy, Cook is expected to start in the top-three in singles and also play doubles.
The No. 4 and 5 slots will likely be between returnee Brandon Kramer and transfer Jong-Min Lee. Kramer started at No. 5 last year, but missed considerable time with an injury. He enjoyed a good fall maturing and improving his game a notch or two and is looking to contribute in both singles and doubles. Lee joins the Bruins after playing No. 1 singles and doubles at UC Santa Barbara for two years and has the potential to break into the top-three singles and should anchor the top-doubles team for the Bruins. The competition for playing time will be great as four Bruins vie for the final spot in the lineup. Returnees Chis Sands and Noah Newman proved they are capable of stepping in when they did so last year, while newcomers Marcin Rozpedski and Xavier Luscan will also be looking for a chance to prove themselves. Rozpedski is a junior college transfer from the College of the Desert where he played No. 1 singles and doubles before suffering a broken wrist last season. Luscan is one of the top junior players out of France. The Bruins are also fortunate to have top NorCal junior Duke Nguyen walk on to the team. With a year of juniors competition remaining, Nguyen is looking to add depth in his rookie campaign and contribute significantly in the future. Also providing depth is senior Hassan Akmal who is a solid practice partner and contender for court time. Rounding out the team are seniors Jay Jackson, Darren Miller and Mark Miller who are integral parts of the team despite seeing limited match time.
Finding the right doubles combinations may take a while, but coach Martin has a head start on the No. 1 slot. Both Grinda and Lee have No. 1 doubles expereince, although not together, and are projected to take that slot. Martin will look to newcomers Fleishman, Luscan and Rozpedski to join returnees Cook, Kramer, Newman and Sands in the doubles mix.
Once again, the Pac-10 Conference boasts some of the nation's top ranked teams and offers the toughest possible competition during league play. Five of those Pac-10 teams are really solid with returning champion Stanford, crosstown rival USC, Washington and Arizona State joining UCLA as teams who should be in contention for the national title this season. The National Indoor Championships in February will once again provide solid competition and a good gauge of the Bruins preparedness to via for the NCAA title. UCLA opens Team Indoors against No. 10 SMU, and would advance to face No. 18 Washington or No. 3 Mississippi State with a win. Other tough non-conference matches this season are the home opener on January 13 against No. 22 Fresno State, No. 53 Miami in mid March and No. 14 Texas A&M in early April. The Bruins will be looking to be a top-eight seed come NCAA Tournament time and due to this year's structural change, host an NCAA Regional Tournament. The NCAA Tournament field has expanded to include 64 teams for the 1999 season and all NCAA participants will compete in regional play this year.