2008 Men's Tennis Season Preview
Jan. 23, 2008
A: It's definitely going to be strange. Those three players were all seasoned veterans so obviously it's a huge loss not to have them this year. It probably hurts us the most in doubles to be quite honest. Ben and Phil at No. 1 and then Chris playing with (Haythem) Abid at No. 2 was really a solid one-two doubles punch for us last year. Chris had a great singles record and Ben was our rock at No. 1. He was as close as you can get to a guaranteed point at that top singles spot. But with that being said, I really feel that Abid is ready to step up and fill that No. 1 role. Those players were a huge loss, but the cupboard is not empty. We have some good experience returning.
Q: Last year you had a tremendous amount of experience. But with three seniors graduating, what do you see as the strength of this year's team?
A: By far one of our biggest strengths this year will be our depth. Not only do we have a pretty strong top-six, but we also have a total of seven or eight players who can all play in the lineup. I'm pretty confident with our top three in Haythem Abid, Harel Srugo and Mathieu Dehaine, but we also have a player like Michael Look playing at No. 5 or 6. I think he's as good as there is in the country at those two positions. He might even step up and play No. 4. The No. 6 spot is where I see the most competition. Jeremy Drean, Nick Meister and Josh Miller will all battle for that last spot. It's encouraging to know that we can win matches at both the top and bottom of our lineup. It's just going to come down to plugging in the right players at the right spots. But I'd say that this year we have the depth that we might not have had in the last couple of seasons.
Q: You lost the three seniors, but you gained a very experienced transfer in Harel Srugo. Where do you see him fitting in?
A: Getting Harel was a huge plus for us. He brings a level of much needed maturity to this team. He's already played two years of college tennis at the highest level as Old Dominion's No. 1 player, so he knows what to expect. To get him on our team this year, especially after losing the three seniors, was a pleasant surprise. We're expecting him to play very high in the lineup. I could put him in at No. 1 or 2 and be confident with that decision. He turned in some solid results in the fall and I'm hoping that carries over into the spring season. From what I've seen thus far I think he's going to do extremely well.
Q: Speaking of the fall, Mathieu Dehaine really had some good results. Are you expecting a breakout year for him?
A: Well, what Mathieu did in the fall was very encouraging and something that I hope continues throughout the year. To reach the finals of our regional championships by beating several very good players was a pleasant surprise. He lost a very close match to (Andre) Begemann of Pepperdine in the final. I think he's definitely playing by far the best tennis that he has played since he's been here at UCLA. He's a senior so he's just more mature and I think that plays into it. I really have high hopes for him this year, and I think he has high hopes for himself as well. This is his last year to make a statement on his college career and he's well aware of that.
Q: How did you think the team did in the fall tournament season?
A: I was really happy with the fall. I thought the guys worked extremely hard. The freshmen did a great job. There was some good leadership from the older guys and I think that really rubbed off on the newcomers who were getting their first taste of college tennis. I think if there is one thing that we need to focus on this year it's that we are really going to have to go out there and prove ourselves. We know that our reputation is solid, but this year I think we are going to have to really earn every victory that we are going to get. I think knowing that we need to prove ourselves is what fuels our day-to-day work ethic to be quite honest. No one is going to roll over and give us a win because we are UCLA. As long as we are aware of that and keep pushing ourselves in practice, we should have a solid season.
Q: This team is one of the younger teams you have fielded in the last several years. How are the freshmen coming along and who do you see making an impact this season?
A: It's a strong group of newcomers. I definitely think that Holden Seguso is going to play somewhere in our top four. He didn't get cleared by the NCAA until right after our last tournament, so it was disappointing to not be able to see him perform in the fall. I really thought that he could get some quality matches under his belt in the preseason but unfortunately it didn't happen. He's going to really help us this year not only in singles but in doubles as well. He's an excellent doubles player, maybe one of the better ones on this team. Nick Meister is another freshman who we are expecting big things from this year. He's probably the one who has benefitted the most from the college atmosphere. He's getting good practice. He's coachable. It's really been a pleasure watching him progress so much in such a short period of time. He's had some really good singles and doubles results so I think he will be a factor for us in both of those areas this season. Chris Ho and Ahmed Ismail are two other freshmen who I'm hoping will step up and get some playing time in the spring.
Q: Where do you see this team in comparison to the other top teams in the country?
A: First off, I think that there are two really strong teams out there in Virginia and USC. They might be ahead of the pack right now. Mississippi and Ohio State are also going to be very good. Where we fit into that scheme I don't know at this point. A lot of it is going to depend on our doubles. Some of it is going to depend on how the newcomers like Holden Seguso and Nick Meister step up. We have some young guys that are going to be forced to play in our top six. That is the reality of our situation. So the season is somewhat of an unknown at this point. We also added Josh Miller in January and he is someone who I think can step up and make an impact in this lineup. But like I said, we just don't know.
Q: You mentioned the doubles lineup. How do you see that shaping up?
A: Well, we lost our three best doubles players from last year in Ben, Chris and Philipp. We are still playing with combinations to see what is best for this team. I think the positive aspect of our doubles is that we have a lot of flexibility there. We've tried a few things and I'm confident that we will have a solid lineup by the time the dual-match season rolls around.
Q: This team has won four straight Pac-10 titles. Is a fifth in this team's future?
A: It's going to be difficult because, like I said, I think USC is going to definitely be one of the top teams in the country this year. Stanford will be a lot stronger this year, as will Cal. But as always, one of our main goals is to win the Pac-10. It won't be easy, especially since I think our conference is going to be a lot stronger than it has been in the last few years. It's been us and USC the last several seasons, but Stanford is right back up there again and that always makes it difficult.
Q: This year's schedule appears to be extremely difficult. Which teams do you see posing the toughest competition?
A: It's definitely one of the tougher schedules in the country in my opinion. Not only is the Pac-10 going to be strong, but we get some really good non-conference opponents towards the early part of the year. We get Baylor here. We get to play Duke here. Those two teams are always among the top five or six in the country. I think Boise State is going to be a top 10 team this year. It's definitely a much stronger schedule than we faced last year. Not only do you have the teams that I just mentioned, but I think some teams that maybe traditionally haven't been as strong in years past are much improved this year. Teams like Arizona State, Arizona, Rice, UC Irvine - those are all solid teams. We are really going to have to go out and fight for every point against those guys. It's a challenge, but we're looking forward to it.
Q: Former All-American Kris Kwinta joins the team this season as an assistant coach. How has he done thus far?
A: I think he did an excellent job with the kids in the fall. He's very enthusiastic. We lost a great coach and person in Jason Sher, but I think Kris has stepped up and proved that he can coach at this level. The guys enjoy working with him and they respect him tremendously. He's been through this whole experience at the highest level and our players know that. He truly knows what these matches are all about and the type of work ethic it takes in order to be successful. So I think from a coaching standpoint we are in good shape.