- School: UCLA
- Year Graduated: 2015
- Current Job: Associate Attorney for Gjerset & Lorenz, LLP
Born September 4th, 1993 in Los Angeles, California, Dennis “Dirk” Mkrtchian is a college tennis legend. Owner of a massive forehand, the American was the #6 overall recruit in the nation coming into UCLA. He won back-to-back singles titles at the Southern California Sectionals in 2010 and 2011 and represented the USA in the Junior Davis Cup Team.
At UCLA, Mkrtchian excelled on and off the tennis court. I was his teammate for three years and if there is one word I can use to describe him as a teammate it would be “winner”. We knew Dirk was going to win his matches and that is helped us raise our level. His overall singles record was 101-34. Dirk established himself as a key player for the Bruins despite fierce competition from incredibly talented teammates at the time (Giron, Thompson, Mcdonald, Novikov, Sell, Puget and so on).
To make his time at UCLA even more impressive, Mkrtchian was equally successful inside the classroom. He double-majored in Political Science and International Development Studies, graduating with Cum Laude honors. Because of that, he earned the prestigious PAC-12 Tom Hansen Conference Medal in 2015 for outstanding senior male student-athlete. He also won PAC-12 Men’s Tennis Scholar Athlete of the Year (2015) and First-Team PAC-12 All-Academic selection.
Following graduation, Mkrtchian did not pursue a professional career and focused on getting accepted to law school; and so he did. He attended Boston College Law School for one year before transferring back to UCLA, where he earned his Law Degree. Today, works as an Associate Attorney for Gjerset & Lorenz, LLP, in Austin, Texas.
Dirk is a close friend of mine and we shared many moments together. Your teammates are your friends for life and seeing them succeed and achieve their goals is inspiring. I hope you enjoy his interview.
7 Questions With Dennis Mkrtchian
#1 What was your recruiting/school selection process like?
Growing up twenty minutes from UCLA, I always saw myself wearing blue and gold. But I also wanted to make an informed decision and evaluate each university with an open mind. This was probably the most important decision of my young life, so I didn’t want rush into a decision. I spoke candidly with many coaches, and learned a lot about each program. During the summer before my senior year in high school, I narrowed my choices to UCLA, Michigan, Illinois, and Duke. But following my UCLA visit (it’s strange calling it a visit since my house was fourteen miles away) and speaking with Coach Billy Martin, I knew that I wanted to be a Bruin. I was well aware of UCLA’s academic prowess and was intimately familiar with the tennis program’s success under him. So, we mainly spoke about my game and my tennis and academic goals. Billy also mentioned that I probably wouldn’t play high in the lineup my first year. I actually appreciated the transparency, and was ready for the challenge (spoiler alert – I didn’t play high in the lineup my first year) Billy also recognized that each player is unique. In other words, something that works for one player might not work for another. This approach is what allowed me to succeed on and off the court (and likely true for most of the Bruins crushing it on the professional tour right now). You’ll hear during the recruiting process that having the right college head coach is the most critical factor for your tennis development and college experience. Take my unsolicited advice – it’s a 100% true. I was also excited to join a team of players that I’ve known most of my life. I was already good friends with freshmen Clay Thompson and Daniel Kosakowski. And one of my best friends, Marcos Giron, already committed to UCLA. I committed in September of my senior year in high school and knew that it was the right decision.
#2 What was your favorite moment/story/aspect of college?
This is a tough question. Similar to most former college players, I loved the team aspect of college tennis. Being a part of a team was so much fun – on and off the court. We had many unforgettable battles against our crosstown rivals USC. I played one Trojan – Roberto Quiroz – eight times throughout my college career! Or the nail-biters over the years against Pepperdine (some of the toughest competitors in college tennis at the time), Ohio State (I actually never won a match against a Buckeye), and Baylor (I once saved 11 match points in a match at Baylor). I could describe some of my favorite matches or individual accomplishments. But I’m feeling pretty nostalgic right now, so the story that sticks out to me at this particular time is our match against Berkeley during my freshman year. This was my first away-from-home dual match, and first match against a conference opponent. UCLA had lost to Berkeley twice in the previous year. We were ranked ninth in the county, but we felt we could be better. We were a relatively young team and ready to prove ourselves. The match against Berkeley would be our first true test.
We quickly lost the doubles point. A little over an hour and a half later, we had lost on Court 6 and five of the remaining six matches were in third sets, including mine. Behind my court, several guys were yelling at the top of their lungs “HIT TO THE BACKHAAAAND” in between points. I couldn’t even see them. I think they were hidden in the bushes or trees near the courts. I could only hear them. It was a hostile, but electric environment. Each court was locked in a close battle. But as would become a common theme throughout my time at UCLA, each player found a way to win through their distinctive playing style and on-court demeanor.
On Court 1, Nick Meister, the fifth-year senior who returned after a devastating hip injury, calmly and slowly wore his opponent down with his steady and physical brand of tennis. Clay Thompson was a little more animated on Court 2. I vividly recall his 6’6 arms flailing everywhere. Clay would serve and volley, rip a random backhand down the line, slice, drop shot, grind. He was a lot of fun to watch (but not to play against). Marcos displayed his typical focus and grit, patiently waiting for his opportunity to secure a late break in the third set. This match was just a preview of Marcos’ well-renowned “clutch-ness.” And in the meantime, I hit two backhands the entire third set. I was essentially recovering to the left doubles alley after each shot, refusing to let my opponent exploit my backhand. It was a wild scene that day. We ultimately defeated Berkeley 4-3 (with Nick Meister clinching), the first of many memorable classics during my time at UCLA.
#3 How did college tennis prepare you for the rest of your career/life?
College tennis improved my time management and prioritization skills. I know these are some of the more commonly-used answers, but that’s because it’s largely true. Additionally, succeeding on the tennis court and in the classroom requires a strong work ethic. These skills helped me succeed at UCLA School of Law and have been invaluable to my career as an attorney for a transactional law firm specializing in health care finance.
#4 A lot of juniors and parents worry that tennis will suffer because of the academic demands of college. What advice would you give an 18-year old in terms of balancing academics and tennis?
Academics provide an important mental break from the tennis grind. And nobody can train 24/7. If players are really worried about academics adversely impacting their tennis, then they can simply choose a less demanding major. More significantly, academics can provide players with alternative options to professional tennis.
#5 Another thing we see parents worrying about is how the social component of college will affect their kids tennis. What would you tell an 18-year old going to college in regards to having fun without compromising their tennis/academics?
The social component of college contributes to their personal growth and development. This is the best time to learn how to balance tennis with other important aspects of life. And professional tennis players also socialize and have fun. As long as the 18-year old is responsible, then the social components should be beneficial.
#6 Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting college again today?
I would take advantage of the undergraduate resources provided by UCLA and the athletic administration. Athletic administrations at most institutions provide numerous resources designed to assist student athletes with making post-college decisions. It would have definitely reduced some of my post-college anxieties.
#7 In your case, why did you think that college tennis was a good option as opposed to going directly to the pro tour?
I know most junior players dream of playing professional tennis. There was a moment in my junior career when I also had professional aspirations. But I recognized that I was injury-prone. And that I had a pretty weak backhand. And I wasn’t particularly great at the net. I tried improving the holes in my game, but as most can relate, it’s not always that easy. So, I knew pretty early on, at least compared to some of my peers, that I wanted to attend college.
College was a blast. Some of my best memories are from college. And I’ve developed great relationships for life. I live in Austin, but I still talk to many of my teammates and college buddies regularly, including the co-founder of mytennishq.com!