Two Bruins have a chance to return to form against UC Santa Barbara on Thursday.
No. 20 UCLA men’s tennis (6-4, 1-0 Pac-12) will take on UC Santa Barbara (6-4, 0-0 Big West) at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. Although it has only competed in a dual match once since the 2013 season, coach Billy Martin said UCLA players face UCSB opponents often.
“We play them in many of the regional tournaments, besides their fall tournament we play every year,” Martin said. “Really no surprises for either coach, but I think this is one of the strongest teams they’ve had in a while, both singles and doubles.”
Freshman Patrick Zahraj has lost four of five singles matches, with the other unfinished, since his first decision of the season on Feb. 15. In the five matches, Zahraj has faced two top-50 opponents and played at three different lineup positions.
Zahraj attributed his recent results to the fluctuating playing conditions for the Bruins and said he is confident after working on his serve.
“Many changes from indoors to outdoors and back isn’t helping,” Zahraj said. “I’ve also had a couple issues on my serve, which dropped my confidence level a bit, but we did a good job in practice working on it, fixing the issues.”
Sophomore Keegan Smith returned to the courts against Utah on Friday after an ankle injury Feb. 15. Smith won his doubles match with his new partner, freshman Govind Nanda, but said he wasn’t comfortable enough with his ankle to compete well in singles.
“It’s definitely been a little bit of an adjustment coming back,” Smith said. “The first match was tough … but I’m getting more confident with it, and it seems like it’s getting better, so I think by Thursday I’ll be back.”
If Smith is back to 100 percent, the Bruins will be close to full health to face the Gauchos. However, sophomore Connor Hance, who sustained a foot injury Jan. 25, has yet to return for the team.