One of the key factors in the emergence of the UC San Diego Men's Tennis team this season has been the play of junior Austin West. While the Tritons have assembled a spotless, 16-0, dual match record, the lefty from Greenwood Village, CO is undefeated in singles and nearly perfect in doubles with partner Erik Elliott. "Austin has great determination, work ethic and persistence," says Head Coach Eric Steidlmayer. "From redshirting his first year to being one of our singles starters, he's made a major transformation to get to where he is today." With just one week remaining in the regular season, West spent a few moments reflecting back on the season and talking about his sport.
Q-Your team has rolled up an impressive, 16-0, dual record this season. What have you noticed that is different about your team since the start of the year?
WEST- We are all playing with a lot of confidence and competing very well every day, even in practice. Our guys that aren't starting are all pushing the guys that are starting and we're all improving as a group.
Q-Was there a point during the schedule where everyone kind of stepped back and thought, "hey, we might be pretty good?"
WEST- I think after we beat our regional rival Hawaii Pacific, which has dominated us the last few years, and then knocking off the defending national champion, Barry, we all just realized that we were a solid team and that we could be one of the best teams in the country.
Q-What are this team's strengths? Where do you think it can still get better?
WEST- This team really competes well, I feel like every match we play our team is more mentally tough and physically fit than our opponents and that's huge in tennis. There are a few skills we're lacking that a lot of teams have, especially big serves. That's one big area we need to improve.
Q-Being a lefty, do you think it is harder for other players to get used to playing a lefty than a righty?
WEST-Yeah, I think it is, especially since I have a pretty unorthodox style game that people aren't used to seeing. I think it throws a lot of people off their games and it's been a big part of my success in tennis.
Q-In high school you played on the tennis team and enjoyed a lot of success. How does it feel to be playing at such a high level at the collegiate level?
WEST- It's a dream come true. I think every level you achieve in sports, you're always dreaming about competing at the next level and thinking about how you're going to get there. I think it's awesome.
Q-You're undefeated playing at No. 6 singles. Do you take the same approach into every match and what kind of adjustments do you make in the course of a typical match?
WEST- Yeah, I have a basic game plan that I go into every match with and tweak it slightly depending on who I'm playing. The only real differences are whether I attack my opponent's forehand or backhand and how often I come to the net. Everything else is pretty much constant.
Q-You and doubles partner Erik Elliott have lost just once all season. What about your games compliments each other so well? How did the two of you get paired up?
WEST- I think all of the things I don't do well, he does extremely well. And the things that I do well on the court he also does well so it's a win-win for us. We're both able to hide each other's weaknesses and accentuate our strengths. In the preseason we sent one doubles team to regionals, and Coach (Steidlmayer) thought we had the best chance of doing well so he sent us. We ended up winning regionals and getting fifth at nationals so we stayed together as a team.
Q-Which do you like better, singles or doubles? Is one tougher than the other for you?
WEST- Both. I like the team aspect of doubles and feeding off each other's energy and competitiveness. Doubles happens way faster so that's pretty fun. I like singles because it's slower and I have time to think and construct points. They're both tough for me, but in very different ways.
Q-For you personally, which of your teammates is toughest to play against? Who has the hardest serve? Who is the most competitive?
WEST-(Erik) Elliott is the toughest to play because he hits such big shots and takes away so much time from his opponents that I struggle to even stay in the point. I think Chapman (Chan) has the fastest serve but Elliott probably has the toughest to return-it's impossible to read. Vince (Nguyen) is probably our most competitive-he comes and gives the same great effort every single day and never gets blown off the court.
Q-Assuming you're also a tennis fan, which of the four Grand Slams do you think is the toughest to win and? Which would your game best be suited for?
WEST- I think Wimbledon is the toughest because it is very rare for players to play on grass growing up so there's a definite learning curve on how to play on that surface. I think my game would be best suited for the U.S. Open. I'd love to just feed off the energy of the home crowd.
Q-Out of the top three ranked men's professional tennis players-Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer-which is your favorite?
WEST- I like Federer the best because he's so smooth and under control at all times. His movement on the court is amazing.
Q-In tennis, which do you think is the most difficult shot to master? Is there a shot you've pulled off in a match that you'll always remember?
WEST- I think they're all tough depending on who you are and what talents you have. I have the most trouble hitting penetrating groundstrokes but that's different for everyone.
As far as a particular shot, against Barry, I was playing No. 5 singles and hit a jumping overhead winner on match point for our first singles win. We ended up winning 5-4 against the defending national champs. That was pretty surreal.
Q-What would you consider your biggest win to this season?
WEST- My win against Barry was pretty big, I think, because we won 5-4, and needed every single match we got to barely squeak that one out against a very tough team.
Q-As a Colorado native, what have you found most interesting about California in general, San Diego in particular? What's been the most difficult thing to adjust to?
WEST-I think the beach and all the different kinds of people that you meet here, it's a very diverse culture.
The most difficult thing to adjust to is probably just the fast-paced way of life. Everyone's climbing over each other here trying to get something done and it's very different from where I'm from, which has a very mellow, relaxed vibe.
Q-You are a dual major--management science and math. What has been the most challenging course you've taken so far and why?
WEST-My most challenging course was an abstract algebra class I took this fall. Because of travelling for tennis I had to miss some classes and I missed a few tests that I wasn't allowed to make them up. So that was a tough time for me.
Q-Did you have a specific career objective when you came to UCSD? Is it still the same or are you looking at other options now?
WEST- I was looking to work somewhere in finance, maybe become a CFO somewhere. I'm still looking towards the same goals, work towards an MBA hopefully.
Q-You grew up in Colorado and list one of your hobbies is skiing. What is your favorite mountain and why? What does skiing have in common with tennis?
WEST-I like Vail and Loveland the best. Vail because it's so big and Loveland because it's basically my backyard, I know that area as well as anyone. Skiing is an independent thing, just you and the mountain. It's not really about anyone else, just like tennis is. You're on an island and it's all up to you.
Q-In your dream scenario, what would be the ultimate ending to this season?
WEST-My dream would be to clinch the national title with a singles win, get mobbed by my teammates and celebrate on the court. I'd go absolutely bonkers.
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