Bears face tough match against top-seeded USC

Sophomore Ben McLachlan took two straight-sets wins last weekend on the No. 2 court.
Michael Tao/Staff
Sophomore Ben McLachlan took two straight-sets wins last weekend on the No. 2 court.

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When the Cal men’s tennis team heads down to Los Angeles this weekend, the squad is hoping to pull off its biggest show yet: an upset of two top-10 teams.

The No. 12 Bears (11-7, 4-0 in the Pac-12) will face No. 1 USC (23-0, 4-0) at David X. Marks Tennis Stadium at 1:30 p.m. on Friday. They’ll follow that game with a match against No. 6 UCLA (18-2, 4-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Los Angeles Tennis Center.

For the past several years, USC has established itself to be the nation’s premier tennis program. They have currently won 43 matches in a row and have trumped every ranked team in the Pac-12. They also seized the ITA National Team Indoors Championships in Charlottesville, Va., in February.

With three consecutive NCAA Championships, the Trojans continued building their team behind top-10 recruiting classes. The Trojans are led by a triumvirate of ranked players, with NCAA Singles Champion Steve Johnson at the helm. No. 2 Johnson is a perfect 20-0 in dual match singles play, with an individual 55-match win streak that stretches back to Jan. 17, 2011. He is also only one of six players on USC’s roster in the 20-win club.

Meanwhile, the Bears are struggling to keep up. The last time Cal had a top-10 recruiting class was in 2008, when the Bears landed current senior captain Nick Andrews. The Bears don’t have a superstar player of Johnson’s caliber either — the closest is sophomore Ben McLachlan at 22 wins.

With a disadvantage in singles, the Bears will have to rely on their doubles play. Cal sports the No. 3 duo of Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt, who are 19-4 this season. Their current season resume includes wins over the third and fourth-ranked duos in the nation. The Trojans counter with three ranked pairs led by No. 7 partners Johnson and Yannick Hanfmann. Their latest conquers include the No. 8 and No. 8 teams, among many others in their 10-2 season.

“The doubles point is going to be key when we play them,” said Cal coach Peter Wright. “We’ve played and matched up well against some of the top teams. Steve Johnson and his team are dominant right now, but with where Nick and Chris are, I wouldn’t put it past them to pull off a win.”

Individually, Andrews is seeking to extend his four-match win streak. He was recently named Pac-12 Player of the Week for his impressive straight-sets win over No. 18 Kyle McMurrow of Washington.

Though the matchup is the Bears’ most challenging yet, Wright is confident that the Bears can handle it. And he knows exactly what the Bears have to do if they want to pull off the upset.

“If we stick to our process,” Wright said. “We want to make sure our repetitions and the way we play here are the same as in the NCAAs because these are the exact kind of opponents we’ll be facing in the postseason.”

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