The Cal men’s tennis team has entered the postseason with a winning record every year for the last decade. For the sixth season in a row, the Bears will enter it after losing its last regular season match.
No. 14 Cal lost to No. 12 Stanford 5-2 on Friday at Hellman Tennis Complex. The win clinched third place for the Cardinal and fourth place for the Bears in the Pac-12. It also kept Stanford’s five-match win streak against the Bears intact.
Cal (11-10, 4-3 in the Pac-12) and Stanford (16-7, 5-2) entered the match on even footing. Both teams were coming off losses to UCLA and USC and were looking to enter the postseason with momentum. However, the Cardinal did dominate the Bears 6-1 on February 25, so recent history remained on Stanford’s side.
Early on, the Bears were poised to defy that history. Contrary to previous matches Cal took the doubles point, led by the No. 5 ranked duo of Nick Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt. Instead of playing the usual No. 7 pair of Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher, Stanford coach John Whitlinger split them, sending Klahn with Denis Lin. His plan backfired though, and the Cal pair clinched the doubles point with their 8-4 victory.
But the singles matches quickly dispelled the Bears’ hopes. On the top court, Klahn dominated Andrews early, scoring two aces in the first game alone. Since Klahn is left-handed, his powerful serves veered towards Andrews’s weak hand and prevented him from getting many breaks. Without those breaks, Andrews had few chances to pull off an upset.
“(Klahn) is a really good player and he hit well today,” Andrews said. “It was hard for me to get a good rhythm on the return because he was so aggressive, so he got a lot of first serves in.”
Most of the other Bears fared no better. With Cal down 3-2, McLachlan appeared ready to tie the score after dominating his first set against Thacher. McLachlan, however, struggled to keep up with Stanford senior’s aggressive play and succumbed 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Gregory Bayane also fared poorly after a strong start. The Cal freshman rushed out to a 5-1 lead against Daniel Ho, slowed to a halt, and lost the first set 7-5. While he did take the second set, he lost the tiebreaker and finished 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (4).
At that point though, Stanford had already won the match.
“We had numerous opportunities but we let ourselves down in singles,” Cal coach Peter Wright said. “In general we have to be mentally stronger as a team and not get emotionally down.”
Cal has lost three dual matches in a row for the first time since 2005. The match also jeopardizes the Bears’ chances of having home court for the NCAA Championships, since the loss puts their top-16 ranking in danger.
“We need one more win to get ourselves in a good spot for the NCAA championships,” Wright said. “Maybe it’s not the result we were after today, but it can be a wakeup call. We’ve got to be more prepared.”