Pearce Caught Coach's Eye at Age 5 : Bruins Breed a McEnroe Killer

Times Staff Writer

UCLA has a freshman tennis player who has beaten McEnroe five out of six times.

Not John McEnroe, however, but his younger brother, Patrick, a freshman at Stanford University.

Brad Pearce is the Bruins' McEnroe killer.

Last year, after Pearce was named the U.S. Tennis Assn.'s top-ranked junior player, he turned down recruiters from Stanford and Pepperdine College to take an athletic scholarship at UCLA.

His arrival at the university from Provo, Utah, ended what could be Bruins Coach Glenn Bassett's longest recruiting effort. "I used to watch him when he was toddling around behind his dad," the coach said.

Pearce's father, Wayne Pearce, was the tennis coach at Brigham Young University, where Bassett first saw the youngster, then 5 years old.

By the time Pearce was 8, tennis had become a serious game. He was defeating his older sister in match after match. That led him, under his father's coaching, into junior competition.

"His daddy schooled him real good," Bassett said.

This season, Pearce, who is seeded third on the UCLA team behind senior Jeff Klaparda and junior Michael Kures, has won nine out of 10 matches for the Bruins, losing only to Southern Methodist University freshman Richie Reneberg, 3-6, 2-6.

"I just didn't have it," Pearce said of his sole collegiate loss at a Feb. 2 meet in Louisville, Ky. "I'd had atough match the night before and had to get up early to play Reneberg.

"I had to wait until 8 o'clock to play (Jorge) Lozano in a match that went on until 1 in the morning," he said. Lozano, a USC freshman, has been a member of Mexico's Davis Cup team since 1980.

Pearce and Lozano split the first two sets in what Bassett called "a key match for us. Freshmen usually take a while to get used to the pressure of college tennis," the coach said. "He was down a match point (in the final set), was still able to keep his head and composure and win, 8-6."

Bassett recently moved Pearce up from sixth seed to third despite the short time he has been with the team. "As far as how far he'll go," the coach said, "we'll just have to see how hard he works."

Pearce declined to comment on player seeding, except to say, "It's kind of a touchy subject on college teams."

It's Pearce's volleys that are pleasing Bassett right now.

"It's hard for the other players to get the ball by him," Bassett said. "He's quick. He moves his feet real well, especially up at the net.

"Forehand shots, backhand shots, smashes, he can do them all."

The coach said that Pearce's serve was "a liability" when he first came to UCLA. "He could only hit a good slice."

But that problem could not be called a permanent flaw in Pearce's game, Bassett said.

"He's very coachable. I've seen some people who look at you and don't hear a thing you say," Bassett said. "He looks at me and seems to hear everything I say."

Under Bassett's coaching, Pearce said he can feel his game sharpening. "I haven't used a lob too often until this year, but it's becoming quite a weapon," he said. "Now I've got a quick lob that surprises the others."

On defense, the coach said, "he's got a long way to go to be a great player. He's got to run down more balls when they're lobbed over him."

Bassett likes Pearce's abilities as a doubles player. As a Bruin, Pearce is 3-2 when paired with Klaparda and 2-0 paired with freshman Ken Diller. In 1980 Pearce and Diller were ranked No. 1 in junior competition doubles play.

Unlike some players, Pearce said, "I don't play a psychological game.

Doesn't 'Go Bananas'

"I don't go bananas over great shots or bad shots," he said. "I just like an intense game."

Despite his initial success in collegiate competition, Pearce said, "I don't want anyone to think I'm arrogant or cocky. That's not me at all."

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