The sixth-seeded UCLA men’s tennis team (24-3) will take on unseeded Tennessee (19-10) in the NCAA Round of 16 this Friday at 7:00 p.m. (EST) in Athens, Ga. The match will be played at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex (McWhorter Courts). The winner of Friday’s match will take on either third-seeded Ohio State or 14th-seeded Florida in the quarterfinals on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. (EST).
UCLA at the NCAA Championships
UCLA is the only team in the country to compete in the NCAA Championships every season since the team format was adopted in 1977 (38 straight years). The Bruins have won 16 NCAA Championships, with the most recent one coming in 2005. Head coach Billy Martin has reached the quarterfinals or better in 19 of his 20 NCAA Tournament appearances. The only time that the Bruins didn’t reach the quarterfinals was in 2011 when they were beaten by Baylor in the round of 16.
UCLA vs. the NCAA Round of 16
UCLA owns a 7-3 record this year against the other 15 teams still alive in the NCAA Championships. The Bruins’ wins have come over USC (twice), Cal, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and Virginia. Two of UCLA’s three losses were to USC, with the other one coming against Baylor.
Puget is Back
After being sidelined for nearly the entire season while recovering from knee surgery, senior Adrien Puget is finally back in the Bruin lineup. Puget made his 2014 debut in the final match of the regular season at USC, teaming with Karue Sell in doubles for a victory at court No. 3. His return to the singles lineup came in UCLA’s 4-2 victory over USC in the Pac-12 Tournament final, as he downed Michael Grant, 6-4, 6-1 at court No. 6. Puget takes a 2-0 singles record and a 4-0 doubles mark into Georgia. Puget could’ve elected to take a medical redshirt this season and return next year, however he opted to help UCLA make a run for the NCAA title.
UCLA in the ITA Rankings
UCLA, which has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation this season, currently checks in at No. 5 in the ITA Rankings released on May 1. The Bruins have been ranked in the top 5 all season. Individually, UCLA boasts the top two players in the nation in top-ranked Clay Thompson and No. 2 Marcos Giron. The three other Bruin players ranked in singles are No. 35 Mackenzie McDonald, No. 71 Gage Brymer and No. 95 Karue Sell. In doubles, Giron and McDonald are currently ranked No. 10 nationally. Giron is also ranked No. 43 with Sell.
Thompson Finds His Form
Senior Clay Thompson is not only the No. 1 player in the nation, he owns the most wins on the team, taking a 37-5 overall record into Friday’s showdown with Tennessee. Thompson has been the No. 1 player in America for all of 2014, earned the No. 1 ranking following a fall season in which he posted an impressive 18-1 record. His lone loss during the fall came in the first round of the ITA All-American Championships in Oklahoma (l. to Axel Alvarez of Oklahoma, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-1). Thompson would go on to win the back draw at the All-American Championships, beginning a 15-match winning streak. He then claimed singles titles at the Southern California Intercollegiates at UCLA, and the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in Flushing, N.Y. Prior to this year, Thompson’s highest singles ranking was No. 29 nationally, achieved in Sept. of 2012. Thompson is the first UCLA player to achieve a No. 1 singles ranking since Benjamin Kohlloeffel in 2007.
Last Year at the NCAA Championships
UCLA and Virginia played in what will likely go down as the most thrilling NCAA Championship match in men’s college tennis history in 2013, as the second-seeded Cavaliers pulled off a 4-3 victory over the top-seeded Bruins at the University of Illinois’ Atkins Tennis Center. Last year’s match was decided by a third set in the final singles match at court No. 3. Following the tough loss in the team tournament, UCLA’s Marcos Giron reached the round of 16 of the singles tournament, while Dennis Novikov and Adrien Puget were beaten in the second and first rounds, respectively.
UCLA has dominated California recruiting in recent years, as six of the Bruins’ top 8 players hail from the Golden State. Marcos Giron (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) was the nation’s No. 1 recruit when he signed with UCLA in 2011. Freshman Gage Brymer (Irvine, Calif.) was also listed as the nation’s top recruit when he inked his letter-of-intent to join the Bruins. Other top Blue Chip recruits on this year’s team include Clay Thompson (Venice, Calif.), Mackenzie McDonald (Piedmont, Calif.), Dennis Mkrtchian (Reseda, Calif.), and Joseph Di Giulio (Newport Beach, Calif.).
Thompson and McDonald Recognized With ITA Awards
The ITA released its regional awards on May 12 and UCLA’s Clay Thompson and Mackenzie McDonald both earned honors for the Southwest Region. Thompson earned the Region’s Senior Player of the Year Award, while McDonald was named the Rookie Player of the Year. Both players are now eligible for the national awards in their respective categories, which will be announced later this month.
Bruins are Pac-12 Champions Again
UCLA won its second-straight Pac-12 Championship on April 26, downing top-ranked USC, 4-2 at Libbey Park in Ojai, Calif. The Bruins also defeated the Trojans in the 2013 final by the same score. After winning the doubles point, UCLA picked up singles wins from Gage Brymer (court No. 4), Adrien Puget (court No. 6) and Karue Sell (court No. 5) to seal the victory. It marked the fourth time this season that UCLA and USC have met, as each team has won two contests. If the Bruins and Trojans square off at this year’s NCAA Tournament, it will mark the first time that the two teams have met five times in one season.
UCLA Leads the Nation in NCAA Titles
UCLA is the national leader in NCAA Championships with 110. The last Bruin team to claim an NCAA title was women's soccer, which captured the program’s first NCAA title in December.
Austin Rapp to Join UCLA in the Fall
Head coach Billy Martin landed yet another Southern California product in November, as Austin Rapp of Rancho Mirage, Calif. signed a National Letter of Intent to join the program in the fall of 2014. Rapp is a highly-touted junior player and is currently listed as a Five Star recruit (No. 26 overall) in the class of 2014 according to TennisRecruiting.net. Rapp recently took home the CIF Singles title at the prestigious Ojai Valley Tennis Championships.
Bruins Streaking at the Right Time
UCLA heads to Georgia having won 13 of its last 14 matches, including four in a row since falling to USC in the final match of the regular season, a match that the Bruins avenged in the final of the Pac-12 Tournament. In addition, UCLA has seemed to find its stride in doubles, claiming the point in its last nine contests.
UCLA currently has the top two players in America in No. 1 Clay Thompson and No. 2 Marcos Giron. The two players are a combined 17-2 at the No. 1 position this season, with Thompson going 10-1 and Giron posting a 7-1 mark. Their combined 60 wins are nearly a third of the team’s total this year (186).
Head Coach Billy Martin
Head coach Billy Martin, who is in his 21st year as head coach of the UCLA Bruins, owns an overall record of 480-95 (.835). This year marks Martin’s 31st on staff, as he also served as an assistant coach for 10 years prior to taking over for Glenn Bassett in 1994. In 20 seasons as head coach, only once has Martin had a team finish out of the top 5 at the season-ending NCAA Championships. Martin’s finest season at UCLA came in 2005 when he led the squad to its first NCAA title since 1984. The Bruins upset top-seeded and undefeated Baylor, 4-3 for UCLA’s 16th NCAA Championship in men’s tennis.