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ITA Player Profile: Clay Thompson, UCLA

Clay Thompson has been on a tear during his senior year at UCLA. He started the year ranked No. 74 in the ITA Preseason Rankings, and after losing in the first round at the Saint Francis/ITA Men's All-American Championship, Thompson went on a 15-match winning streak to finish the fall season. During that time, he won the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships and surged to No. 1 in the ITA Division I Men's Singles Rankings. The ITA spoke to Clay after his big win at Flushing, New York to see what's changed in his game, and attitude, to deliver such impressive results.


How many matches in a row have you won, do you have any idea?
Because the guys said it the beginning of the match, 15. Before that, I did not know.

That is quite a streak, 15 straight matches. You've talked about a change in attitude on the court, and just trying to enjoy it more. How come you didn't do this last year? What clicked? Is it being a senior and really wanting to maximize your last season?
Maturity is a funny thing. Honestly, it just kind of clicks at random points, and people have their weeks here and there, it's kind of just all about maturing and finding the right time, and for me, the right time was now, and we’ll see if I’ll can be lucky enough to keep the momentum going. But, honestly, I’m just thankful for this experience, and the maturity that, you know losing in Tulsa has brought for these 15 matches. I just feel like a new person all around on and off the court, so hopefully that’ll keep going.

From what I saw today, it looked like you were having a lot of fun out there.
I was having a blast.

Clay Jamie NIIC 2013

It’s rare to see that, you haven’t been in a major final before, most players would probably get really tight. Speaking of getting tight, what happened at 5-4 when you served that out?
I got tight. I was pretty tight when the match started honestly, you know, just to be in the situation. I've never won a major tournament of anything. I got to the finals of Easter Bowl, and that was the closest I've ever gotten. Honestly, I was having a blast out there. It’s such a cool tournament to be in New York, Flushing Meadows, where all the greats have played, and to be in front of a crowd. We had a great crowd out there, and it was an amazing experience. But yeah, I definitely got tight at 5-4 in the second, but I was able to rebound at 5-5, and you know, getting tight is part of sports, you know that’s why we play, to feel those nervous feelings.

You've had a huge presence on the Bruins team, you are a leader for them, you are a cheerleader. What does it feel like to have that kind of role, and you win 15 straight matches and now you’re a major champion?Amazing. You know I just tried to provide energy for my teammates, and I try to provide an entertaining atmosphere for people that watch, and just kind of make tennis as interesting as possible. It's sports entertainment at the end of the day, and people want to come out and they want to see a good match. They don’t necessarily want to see someone who is extremely good at tennis blow someone else off the court; they want to see match where people are fighting and giving it their all. So I just like to provide entertainment in any way possible. It’s so fun more me to kind of get the guys pumped up, and now to have to have a title behind me is just amazing.

You really found the range on your forehand this week, do you think this is the best week you've ever had with it?
My forehand, I’ve always had a good range on it. I felt pretty confident hitting it this tournament. I think what really made the difference this tournament was my coming in, my volleys, my backhand. Usually I hit the forehand really hard, but my backhand I’m more about just getting it into play. This week I decided let me hit my backhand the same way I hit my forehand, and honestly, though there weren't as many winners, there were huge points where I hit a backhand winner and it just turned the tide, and before that wouldn’t happen. So, I think just kind of letting loose, and hitting all my other shots the way I hit my forehand, because my whole life my forehand has been my weapon.

So obviously your play on the court has been stellar, and you also received a sportsmanship award today. Can you talk about how that adds to the whole experience that you’ve had and what that means to you?
I can tell you I definitely would not have won that award when I was 14. I was not the prime example of sportsmanship, but you know again, I think relaxing, taking everything into perspective, enjoying the moment, I think that’s all helped me become a more mature person, and in turn a better sport. When a guy hits a good shot, that’s no reason to be upset. He played a good point, that’s great, that’s exactly what you want when you’re a tennis player, you want someone to push you and play well against you. It’s no fun when they’re missing every shot. So, I just think that goes hand in hand with sportsmanship, just appreciating the guy you’re playing, appreciating the sport, and really having a good time.

Clay Thompson - NIIC

Are there any players that you look up to, or any players that you wanted to model yourself after?
I like interesting players, I like ones that get the crowd into it. I admire Jimmy Connors, in the sense that he really got the crowd into it. I just watched that documentary about him, the ESPN 30 for 30 “This is What They Want,” and that was very inspiring. I like Del Potro a lot, because he’s a big guy.  I admire Sampras, just for being an American professional. When I was younger, I really admired Vitas Guerulitis, which is an interesting one, but I kind of just liked the style, he’s a cool guy. Right now, I can’t really say that I have one professional player that I just love. I respect Federer, he’s a great guy, Nadal is cool, good competitor but not a fan of the way he plays, Ferrer is really cool, I like Ferrer, just the way he battles, he’s the ultimate competitor and he just has such a respect for the game and I really appreciate that. Right now there is not a pro I would say that he’s my favorite.

So I guess you would probably say this is the best moment in your career so far, or do you have another favorite or maybe a really funny moment on court that you think about in your collegiate career that’s going to stand out as the best?
I really can’t think of a hilarious moment that I can say on camera, but this is definitely a huge moment in my college career definitely, and its definitely one of the top moments in my life, and tennis life. I’d say the biggest moments have to come in the dual matches when I just have a team behind me, and having that sense of winning for them, and the coach, and the school, and all the alumni, that’s just bigger than winning for yourself. I’m winning for myself here, I’m winning for my school but in a sense it’s not as big in my mind as a dual match.