Riki McLachlan wasn’t supposed to play singles in Saturday’s second round NCAA match with Fresno State; a last-minute lineup change substituted him for his freshman, brother Ben.
But it was his sixth-court victory at the Hellman Tennis Complex that clinched the day’s 4-3 tilt for the No. 14 Cal men’s tennis team, which advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 2003.
The sophomore from New Zealand hadn’t played a singles match since a Feb. 20 sweep of UCSB. While he had stayed active and ready throughout the hiatus, he couldn’t ignore the fatigue on Saturday.
“I got really tired in the legs,” McLachlan said in a post-match interview. “I think we both got really tired.”
His opponent David Ayoun nabbed the first set, 7-5. With the two teams tied at 3-3 overall, the day’s results depended on the next set. And Ayoun had already walked away the victor from the same exact situation the day before against No. 19 Minnesota.
But McLachlan “fought like a lion out there,” Cal coach Peter Wright said. McLachlan doggedly hung in, and after winning two consecutive 6-4 upsets, he shook hands across the net with Ayoun as the day’s hero.
“With all the ups and downs in the match, he hung in there and really showed some muster to get through it,” Wright said. “What a wonderful end to a fantastic match.”
The Bears began the match on one of the downs when the Bulldogs swept the first two singles matches. The No. 23 duo of junior Nick Andrews and sophomore Christoffer Konigsfeldt fell to Remi Boutillier and Rikus de Villiers, while Ben McLachlan and Pedro Zerbini narrowly lost on the second court.
“When we lost the doubles point, we knew we were in for a tough day,” Wright said.
Yet, many players were able to come back throughout their matches and turn the tide in Cal’s favor.
In the only singles match of the day that didn’t reach three sets, Andrews overpowered Jean-Charles Diame in an easy 6-1, 6-1 domination on court No. 3 to tie the overall score. Konigsfeldt notched another team point on court No. 4 after coming back from a 3-6 first set loss to steal the next two, 6-1, 6-3.
Zerbini put the Bears ahead, 3-1, after winning on his opponent’s serve on the top court, but the Bulldogs abruptly ended Cal’s upward climb with two back-to-back victories. Boutillier stole a second set tiebreaker and the third set from sophomore Carlos Cueto, while Nick Papac defeated senior Bozhidar Katsarov.
“Bo had an ad in the third set, he had the match in his hands,” Wright said. “But then the opportunity to clinch the match slipped away.”
That came before McLachlan’s cinderella story.
Annie Gerlach covers men’s tennis.