Hard times have befallen the UNLV men's tennis team, but no one's blaming Alex Bull.
Bull, a senior left-hander from London, has remained reliable and consistent since joining the team, both with his aggressive play and his high level of enthusiasm.
Rebels coach Owen Hambrook, whose squad is off to a 3-6 start this season, said there's always a chance that his team will turn things around as long as Bull is in the lineup.
"He's definitely our most consistent guy," said Hambrook, whose squad entered this week ranked 57th despite the slow start. "He's extremely competitive, and he hates to lose. He brings so much energy to the team."
Bull's style of play is unorthodox, but opponents always can expect him to serve hard and place the ball with precision.
"I like to mix it up," said Bull, who plays at the No. 3 position. "I'm very unpredictable."
Perhaps the only thing predictable about Bull is his likeliness to win when he steps onto the court. He went 23-12 at the No. 5 spot last season, leading the team in victories.
"When I play, I always compete," said Bull, who is in the midst of the first three-match losing streak of his career. "I'm a very strange player. I might lose the first set 6-1, but I'm not going to lose the next set that easily."
Most of all, Bull takes pride in the fact that he's a team player.
"Tennis is very team-oriented," he said. "It's an individual sport in some aspects, but one person isn't going to make the difference."
Bull tries to make that difference by infusing his teammates with energy.
"At the end of the day, I'm probably the most fiery player on the court," he said. "Whether it's positive or negative, I'm the most vocal. I try to be the spark plug."
Hambrook said Bull's team mentality is contagious.
"He's done a really good job this year in terms of being positive," the coach said. "He does a good job of bringing the guys together."
Bull, who has enjoyed every minute of his four years at UNLV, said the only regret of his career was beyond his control. Upon leaving high school, the NCAA revised academic requirements for foreign players. Bull, who did not foresee the rule change, wound up not being eligible to play as a freshman.
"It was extremely frustrating to sit out that first year," Bull said. "Just watching and knowing I couldn't really do much to help."
A nagging ankle injury has caused similar frustration this season for Bull, who is one of several Rebels nursing ailments.
"Injuries have had an impact," he said. "It's not an excuse, but I've never seen the whole team as injured as we are now."
But Bull plans on doing whatever is necessary to ensure the Rebels rebound. Though the losing streak has dropped his dual-match record to 5-4, he still sees the possibility of a memorable finish.
"I'd obviously like to help end the slump and start beating some teams," he said. "Making the NCAA Tournament would be a great way to leave. That's every athlete's dream."
But if that dream does not materialize, Bull might chase another. Though his tennis eligibility will expire after this season, a technicality in NCAA rules would allow him to compete in another sport for one more season.
"I've actually been thinking about trying out for the (UNLV) soccer team," said Bull, who is majoring in sports journalism. "I played soccer for years. I'm athletic and quick, and I can pick up a sport very easily. I'd like to do that instead of having nothing else to do."
Bull recently sent an email to UNLV men's soccer coach Rich Ryerson, but he's still waiting to learn whether soccer is a possibility.
In the meantime, he will turn his attention to the remainder of his final tennis season, which resumes with a dual match Friday at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Jeff Wollard is a freelance reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.