It has only been a month since the tennis season started, but the Cal’s men’s tennis team is already in full swing with its long preseason. Centered on individual results, the preseason will reach its peak at the upcoming ITA Championships tournament circuit.
“Preseason gets us ready at the level we want to be,” said junior Nikhil Jayashankar. “We see where we are and where we need improvement.”
Starting Thursday, two of the Bears will head to Tulsa, Okla. to compete in the Saint Francis Health System ITA Men’s All-American Championships. Seniors Ben McLachlan and Campbell Johnson have earned direct entries into the main draw, forgoing the arduous process of prequalifying and qualifying this prestigious tournament requires.
“(They’re) both in the main draw, so that’s exciting,” said coach Peter Wright. “This tournament is considered to be one of the grand slams of college tennis.”
This is the first appearance for Johnson and the third for McLachlan. McLachlan qualified to the tournament at his first appearance and was seeded 14th last year. Both appearances resulted in first-round losses.
“The last two times, I lost first round. I’m hoping to do much better than that,” said McLachlan. “I’ve grown as a player since the last two years, so I feel like I will be able to learn from those lessons.”
McLachlan and Johnson’s participation in the All-American tournament is met with a cautionary eye. Since the beginning of the season, McLachlan and Johnson have both been sidelined with injuries. Sharing similar schedules, they have not played many matches, sitting out on the Harvard Chowder Fest and the Napa Valley Tennis Tournament. So far this season, the two have only played with the team against the USTA junior team.
But earlier this past week, both McLachlan and Campbell have been training well and have been deemed “ready to play,” according to Wright.
“We want them to have a healthy tournament,” said Wright. “A healthy tournament is a happy week for us.”
With their lack of match play, McLachlan and Johnson are facing stiff competition. The ITA All-American offers all singles quarterfinalists automatic berths to November’s USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
“You do well at this tournament, you can consider yourself as one of the best,” Johnson said.
Despite all the buzz surrounding this year’s tournament, for coach Wright, keeping the players happy and healthy is his main priority.
Given their current rankings and physical health, McLachlan and Johnson echo each other’s sentiments that the ITA All-American Championships is just another tournament for them. The focus and the team’s goals all lie in the spring season, where dual matches against other Pac-12 teams take place.
“Obviously I want to do well, and if I lose, it’s a little bit of a bummer,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, I want to focus on the season and do the best we can do as a team. Individually, (this tournament) is a big deal, but then again, it’s not the end of the world.”
Jennifer Yu covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].