Q&A With Junior Erik Elliott
Playing as the third seed in the West Region, the UC San Diego men's tennis team will make its 11th-straight NCAA postseason appearance on Thursday with a 9:30 a.m. road match against BYU-Hawaii. The Tritons have already met the second-seeded Seasiders twice this season, suffering losses by 5-4 and 7-2 scores. If UCSD can snag a win in its third attempt, the team will join 15 other squads in Altamonte Springs, Fla., for the final rounds of competition.
Leading the Tritons in singles is Erik Elliott, a junior out of San Juan Capistrano, Calif. After only competing in doubles as a sophomore, Elliott has stepped into the No. 1 singles spot this season and performed admirably. He has produced a singles record of 9-6 to go along with a team-high 13 doubles victories, while being paired with Jake Fellow earlier in the season and Chapman Chan more recently.
Before jetting off to Hawaii for Thursday's big match, Elliott took a few moments to discuss the team's success this season, his three years as a Triton and the preparations he's making for his third meeting of 2010 with BYUH's top player, Rong Ma.
Q: Your team traveled to Hawaii earlier in the season for three matches. How is this trip to the island different and do you expect any changes in the squad's attitude?
ELLIOTT: This trip is a little different in that we are playing in order to go to nationals. Our last trip was for experience playing there and playing some teams in our conference to figure out the seeding. That being said, every match is important though and this match is equally important. This time, we're a little more relaxed since it's only one match to focus on. Instead of three teams we have to think about, it's only one team to prepare for. I think our team is really excited to be going back to Hawaii and probably feeling a little more comfortable and prepared this time.
Q: Thursday will mark the third time you'll face Ma this season. Can you talk a little bit about his style of play and what you need to do to win that singles match?
ELLIOTT: Rong is different from a lot of the guys I play because he uses his head a lot more than others. He always makes smart choices and that comes from experience. He's 26 years old and the court experience he brings to every match definitely shows. He's strong off of both sides and has a great all-around game. Nothing really stands out about his game, but there aren't really any obvious weaknesses either. In order to beat him, I have to play a little differently than most people. Most of the guys I play, I can expect them to make random mistakes or give me free points. I can't expect that as much from Rong. In order to beat him, I will have to realize that I will need to set up the points much longer and better in order to finish the point. I will have to expect every ball to come back and come back well.
Q: After keeping to just doubles last year, how challenging has it been to take on the No. 1 singles spot from the start of 2010?
ELLIOTT: It's definitely been a challenge. At the beginning of the season, I knew it was going to be tough and honestly it's been even harder than I expected. I did get the chance to play a few singles matches at the five and six positions my first two years and coming from that was a big surprise. My first match this year was a big eye opener for me. We played the University of San Diego and I was not at all prepared for the level of play at No. 1. I got blown away by Dean Jackson and was basically shocked and not prepared at all for that. I remember that day I stayed for an extra two hours after the match was over and trained with my personal coach because I felt like I just wasn't mentally prepared for that level of play. The next week I came out and was much more prepared to take on the No. 1 spot.
Q: A lot of teams go through transformations during the three or four months of the season. How have the Tritons changed since that season opener on Feb. 1?
ELLIOTT: We've changed a lot. A lot of guys of the team have been working hard this year and it's really shown. Even during season, some people have really stepped up their games and started playing at much higher levels than when we started. Our lineup and doubles teams have changed a few times as a result.
Q: Seeing that your father was a Division I national champion in alpine skiing at the University of Colorado, I'm sure you know a thing or two about winter sports. What's your favorite Olympic moment?
ELLIOTT: I enjoyed watching all of the winter Olympic games. I can't really pick a favorite as there were a lot of good moments. Except for curling. I can't really get excited watching curling.
Q: Other than tennis, what sports did you enjoy playing as a child?
ELLIOTT: I did a lot of skiing when I was younger. I lived in Colorado until I was five, and skied over 100 days a year while I was there. My dad had me standing on skis at 13 months old. We moved to California when I was five though and since then it has been tennis. I used to play some soccer and take swim lessons but tennis pretty much became my sole sport at seven years old, when I started playing every day.
Q: Having spent countless hours on the road and on the courts with your teammates this season, you probably are a fair judge of their talents. If one of them could serve as President of our country for a week, who would you elect?
ELLIOTT: Jason Wall. I feel like he would try his best to do the most for our country in a week.
Q: The ESPN tennis crew of Dick Enberg, Mary Jo Fernandez and Patrick McEnroe is out with food poisoning after eating alligator in the outback. They need a fill-in for the final of the Australian Open and want one of your teammates. Who would do the best job?
ELLIOTT: It would have to be a duo, Chapman Chan and Sam Ling would be hilarious.
Q: Out of all the teams at UCSD, what's your favorite sport to watch besides tennis?
ELLIOTT: Water polo and volleyball because they are both really exciting for spectators.
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