Bears head to ‘grand slam tournament’ in Oklahoma

Junior Christoffer Konigsfeldt began singles qualification on Monday.
Eugene W. Lau/File
Junior Christoffer Konigsfeldt began singles qualification on Monday.

During preseason, the Cal men’s tennis team participates in a bevy of tournaments, each one presenting an opportunity to improve play and ramp up for the start of spring. That’s all they really are — competitive practices. However, this it not the case at this week’s ITA Men’s All-American Championship, which takes place in Tulsa, Okla.

“This is considered one of the grand slam tournaments,” coach Peter Wright said. “There are two in the fall, both sponsored by the ITA.”

The performance of each individual Cal player in the All-American Championship is a significant factor in determining his personal rank. Technically, the tournament should not factor into the Bears’ team ranking, but Wright said it still plays a role.

“The team rank really is indirectly affected by the individual performances,” he said. “We always want to get as many players ranked as possible, which will help our team standing.”

The better the team ranking going into the season, the greater the chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament and receiving a better seed. All that makes this tournament a big deal.

The Bears had to travel a considerable distance to Tulsa’s Michael D. Case Tennis Center, where the Championship is being held. The tournament’s pre-qualifying rounds were on Saturday and Sunday, but the Bears did not take part.

“It’s a long road from pre-qualifying to actually enter the tournament,” Wright said. “So we chose to participate in the Fresno State Bulldog Classic over the weekend instead of sending our guys to that round.”

Sophomore Ben McLachlan and junior Christoffer Konigsfeldt were, however, entered into singles qualifiers. They must fight their way through their respective brackets in three rounds spanning three consecutive days of play in order to participate in the main draw. The first round of singles qualifying began Monday afternoon. McLachlan was slotted to play Niall Angus of Texas A&M and Konigsfeldt was to face Juan Melian Puigventos from Georgia Tech.

For doubles, Cal will pair up senior Carlos Cueto and McLachlan. Beginning on Tuesday, the duo will attempt to earn a spot in the main draw via three qualifying rounds.

Following the three days of qualifying matches, main draw play will begin on Thursday. Cueto and fellow senior Nick Andrews have already been entered into the main draw singles. Andrews is also automatically participating in the main draw doubles with Konigsfeldt based on their ranking and success in 2010. Andrews and Konigsfeld both reached the round of 16 in last year’s event, albeit with different doubles partners.

This “grand slam tournament” is the largest tournament the Bears have competed in thus far in preseason.  It attracts the top ranked teams from all over the country, including USC, the reigning NCAA champion.

“The best of the best play in this tournament,” Wright said. “The best players from the Pac-12, the SEC, Big-12 and a lot of other great schools will all be there.”

A good showing in the All-American Championships would be a big boost for Cal. Even without going through pre-qualification, it is a long road to the finals.

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