Bears dust off summer lull on clay courts

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Clay courts are not familiar territory for the Cal men’s tennis team.

The Bears practice and spend the majority of their season playing on hard courts. But this past weekend, the team changed its terrain at the sixth annual Olympia Fields Country Club Fighting Illini Invitational.

Since the Bears were not used to the Olympia Fields courts, they had to tweak the way they usually play the game.

“The balls tend to bounce a little higher and they don’t go straight through the court as much as they would on hard courts,” said assistant coach Tyler Browne. “(Our players) have to learn how to see different angles, construct tennis points, and play the game a little better out here in the clay.”

From Sept. 14-16, Cal traveled to the Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago, Ill., to go head-to-head with five other schools: Texas, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Pepperdine and host Illinois.

All six teams made 2012 NCAA Tournament appearances earlier this year, including NCAA semifinalist Pepperdine.

Throughout the weekend, the players had to learn how to slide into the shot and adjust their positioning on the clay courts.

However, despite their strange environment, the Bears managed to perform well — more so in their singles than doubles matches. Cal ended with a 9-7 singles and 1-5 overall doubles records.

On Friday, Cal went undefeated in singles matches, producing a 4-0 record. Sophomore Gregory Bayane easily took down Illinois’ Tim Kopinski in two sets, while sophomore Andrew Scholnick beat Pepperdine’s Damian Gryzelko in three sets.

In his first preseason tournament with the Bears, junior transfer Campbell Johnson defeated No. 24 Greg Andrews of Notre Dame, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6.  Sophomore Chase Melton ended the tournament with a perfect 4-0 singles record.

“I had a lot of trouble at first, but once I figured out how to slide on the clay, I was able to keep from falling out of my position,” said Melton.

Melton’s last singles match against Jared Hiltzik of Illinois was the highlight of the weekend.

In the beginning of the match, Melton experienced muscle cramps in his right forearm and lost the first set of the game. However, Melton came back with a few high-quality serves and volleys to win his second and third set. Melton was selected to the All-Tournament team.

The Bears were less fortunate in their doubles play, winning only one of the five close doubles matches.

“We were pretty close to winning a couple of doubles matches, but it’s easy to lose your footing and harder to make cuts on the clay,” Browne said.

In fact, the clay courts may have been beneficial for the Bears as the tournament served as a learning experience for the team.

“At the end of the day, the difference in courts is good for our younger guys who are used to just making short points and banking on the court,” said Browne. “Overall, it was just a great way to start the year off.”

Janice Chua covers men’s tennis. Contact her at Tags , , , , ,