Arizona’s men’s tennis team likes to talk trash. Whether it be to one another at practice or to their opponents in matches, the back-and-forth chirping is in the Wildcats’ DNA — and it’s fueling the best season in program history.
“We trash talk all the time,” senior Alejandro Reguant said. “We use it to put pressure on each other.”
Practices at the Robson Tennis Center on the UA’s campus is ground zero for the competitive chirping. Tuesday’s practice was no exception; the Wildcats played in heated intersquad doubles matches as they prepared for the Pac-12 Championships, which start Friday in San Diego.
“When we play matches against opponents and you’re in tight moments, you go back to these moments in practice where your teammates put pressure on you, so it’s nothing new,” he said, adding his banter falls along the more respectful line.
The 2021 season has been a record-breaking one for the Wildcats. For starters, they have the most wins (18) in a single season, including victories over conference powerhouses USC and UCLA. Last weekend, the Cats drove up north to play ASU and returned home with a 4-0 sweep — the first time since 2006 they’ve beaten their rivals.
“We didn’t just beat them; we manhandled them,” UA coach Clancy Shields said.
This weekend, Arizona will go for its first-ever Pac-12 championship. The Wildcats are the No. 2 seed in the tournament, tying the highest seed in program history.
Arizona will face Utah in Friday’s first round. This year’s championships are being held at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego.
“We’re going into Pac-12’s trying to win because we think we have a good chance,” Reguant said.
Reguant has been a steady hand this spring.
The senior from Barcelona, a distinguished four-year captain at UA, is “like another assistant coach,” Shields said. Shields routinely involves Reguant in coaching decisions with the staff and scouting preparations.
Likewise, Shields — who’s in his early 30s — is s spry enough to participate in practices from time to time, lining up on opposite sides of the net as his players as their opponent.
“I tell those guys that the second I step on the court against them, I’m not a coach anymore,” Shields said. “This is your chance to beat me.”
Added Reguant: “Oh, he talks trash too. He’s probably the biggest competitor out of anybody out there.”
The Wildcats have the pieces to make a run at the Pac-12 title. Reguant holds the school record for singles wins. Next to him is Gustaf Strom, a freshman who ranks top 25 in the country in singles play. Junior Jonas Ziverts is also a top-100 player in the country.
Shields is thoroughly enjoying his fifth season at the helm of the Wildcats tennis program. When he was hired by former UA athletic director Greg Byrne in the summer of 2016, Shields wrote down a list of goals for the program he wanted to reach within five years.
Make the NCAA Tournament. Be a top-20 team. Beat USC and UCLA.
Done, done, and done.
He’s recently added a new one: Win the Pac-12 Championship.
“Just getting the team to believe they can accomplish something they didn’t think they could do at the beginning of the year is special,” Shields said.