The No. 13 Cal men’s tennis team had clinched the match over an hour ago when Ben McLachlan utterly stifled his opponent. Since the Bears had already nabbed the doubles point and two singles matches, McLachlan’s swift 6-0, 6-2, victory gave the Bears the fourth and winning point of the day.
Action halted on every other court and Cal’s lead over Sacramento State (0-3) widened to 5-1. At that point, the only loss Cal (4-3) suffered was Riki McLachlan’s two-set defeat.
But the top court of the Hellman Tennis Complex was still alive as Cal captain Nick Andrews and the Hornets’ Aliaksandr Malko began a gritty tiebreaker to end Cal’s 6-1 rout of the Hornets on Wednesday.
For Andrews, the entire day had been a series of close calls. With his longtime duo partner, Chris Konigsfeldt, in Slovenia for the Davis Cup, Andrews took the top doubles court alongside Ben McLachlan.
In fact, largely due to Konigsfeldt’s absence, Cal overhauled its entire doubles lineup.
“With (Konigsfeldt) out of the picture, coach wanted to try some new teams, see who was playing well,” Andrews said.
The mixed-up duos, coupled with the fact that Cal was sluggish to open play, left the doubles teams scrambling to gain the first point of the day. Despite giving up a two-game lead, Andrews and Ben eventually took the first match for Cal.
However, the Bears’ third-court tandem fell, leaving the fate of the doubles point in the hands of Riki McLachlan and first-timer freshman Andrew Schlonick. After falling behind, 6-5, Riki and Schlonick went on to take the next three games to capture the win and the doubles point.
“We’ve got some holes in our game in doubles,” said Cal coach Peter Wright. “I can’t fault our fight. We work really hard out there, but the challenge is to work smarter.”
Similar to its doubles performance, Cal was once again slow to heat up in the singles portion — that is, with the exception of Ben and junior Carlos Cueto. The two Bears, on courts No. 2 and 3, respectively, played breakneck and impassioned tennis that punished their opponents and yielded two quick victories.
Which was why Andrews’ methodical play one court over from Cueto was such a study in opposites.
Andrews is a mentally aggressive competitor. He doesn’t get worked up; instead, he steadily outworks his opponent. But that kind of patient play doesn’t equal a quick jump ahead, and Andrews spent the majority of his singles match playing catch-up against Malko.
After dropping the first set, Andrews came back to steal the second (which involved a nasty ad-break at 3-all). The tiebreaker quickly jumped to a 2-2 tie before Malko aimed a shot in the right corner of the court and took a lead. And he kept widening the gap between himself and Andrews until the match looked over at 6-3.
But Malko was exhausted – Andrews had worn him down. The Sacramento State sophomore overshot or failed to reach key shots, and Andrews finally brought the set back to a tie at 8-all. Two quick points later, and the grueling battle was his.
“The only time he was ahead was at 9-8 in the breaker,” Wright said. The second to last point was the first time in the whole match he was ahead. If you look at it that way, he spent 99.9 percent of the match down and came back to win.”