For the No. 15 Cal men’s tennis team, the dual season was filled with highs and lows.
Its final match against No. 3 Tennessee was no exception.
Despite starting off the day with a doubles upset, the Bears eventually fell, 4-2, to the Volunteers in Thursday’s round of 16 at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, Calif.
“For our guys it was a part of what we’ve been doing all year,” Cal coach Peter Wright said. “We fought hard. This match was winnable by both teams.”
Thursday’s match was nothing if not a series of close calls that started on the doubles courts and persisted into the singles round.
Tennessee (24-4) took the first match of the day when its duo of Tennys Sandgren and Rhyne Williams overpowered sophomore Carlos Cueto and senior captain Pedro Zerbini, 8-1, on court No. 2. Soon after, Cal (14-8) evened the score when senior Jonathan Dahan and freshman Ben McLachlan posted an 8-5 win over Matteo Fago and Edward Jones.
With the fate of the doubles point resting on the top court, Cal’s No. 23 tandem of Nick Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt battled Boris Conkic and John Patrick-Smith, the nation’s top-ranked pair.
At 6-4, Andrews and Konigsfeldt broke the Tennessee advantage, and with a combination of strong reaction time and movement at the net they were able to tie the match. In the tiebreaker, the Bears rallied in a 7-4 contest to secure the doubles point.
“Not a lot of people thought they’d win,” Wright said. “Nick and Chris kept coming, they were aggressive going after each shot. Winning the doubles point gave us a head start. It was the spark that got us going.”
However, the team was unable to ignite that spark further in the singles round and gave up key tiebreakers on courts two and six. Senior Bozhidar Katsarov faltered in his 7-6(5), 6-0 loss to Jones on the bottom court, while the third-ranked Williams edged out Cueto, 7-6(5), 6-3, to clinch the match for Tennessee.
“Had we been able to convert one or two of those, it might have turned out differently,” Wright said.
Conversely, Wright added that for Tennessee the tiebreakers proved pivotal. And indeed, McLachlan was the only Bear to notch a point that morning in his three-set defeat of Fago.
The New Zealand native’s win was sandwiched in between Tennessee triumphs; Zerbini faced a quick 6-3, 6-1 defeat at the hands of No. 11 Smith on the top court, while Conkic outplayed Konigsfeldt, 6-2, 6-2, on court No. 4.
“There were a lot of tough matches,” Wright said. “Tennessee is very strong, they’ve played well all year.”
Overall, though, the team doesn’t have any regrets after making its first round of 16 appearance since 2003.
“The kind of fight and attitude we displayed is what made us so successful this season,” Wright said. “This match was nothing to be ashamed of. We went after it.”
Annie Gerlach covers men’s tennis.