Five Cal men’s tennis players head to Saint Mary’s tournament

Michael Ball/Staff

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The end of fall is near. For most students, that means dealing with frigid weather and the added pressure of finals looming. But for the Cal men’s tennis team, the end of the fall season gives an opportunity for a brief respite.

From Friday to Sunday, a group of five will be representing Cal at the Gael Classic hosted by Saint Mary’s College in what will serve as the final tournament of the fall season for the Bears. The five-man squad will consist of junior transfer Oskar Wikberg, juniors Wyatt Houghton, Jordan Smith and Mads Engsted and senior Nikhil Jayashankar.

All five Bears will be competing in singles, but because the group has an odd number of people, Engsted will be sitting out of doubles. For doubles, Houghton and Wikberg will be paired up together, as will Jayashankar and Smith.

At Saint Mary’s, Cal will be facing the likes of UC Davis, Stanford, USF and Denver.

“For this event, it’s very similar to how UC Davis (Aggie Invitational) went and a little bit like regionals where a lot of it will be local competition,” said associate head coach Tyler Browne. “A lot of the same guys we’ve been seeing over the course of the fall.”

With this being their final meet of the season, the Bears plan to make use of the meet as match-play practice. Each individual who will be participating in the tournament this weekend also has specific goals and specific areas they are looking to improve in set personally and by the coaching staff that they will hope to achieve at Saint Mary’s.

“Like for all the events in the fall, our main focus is just to make sure that we’re getting ready for the spring,” Browne said. “The guys that are playing this event are looking to get a couple of more matches in, and their bodies are holding up pretty strong, so they want to keep competing and keep challenging themselves with new things.”

With a truncated squad heading to this weekend’s tournament, the coaching staff had the opportunity to zone in on the five players who’ll be competing. In practice, these players were able to receive personalized attention to focus on ameliorating their level of play.

For Wikberg, this meant paying special attention to his backhand, specifically his shot selection with his backhand and how he uses it to set up forehand shots. Engsted, too, focused on shot selection as well as controlling the power of his stroke. Smith paid close attention to his balance, Jayashankar worked on finishing at the net, and Houghton was focused on refining his doubles play.

“Little things like that is what we’re looking for from each guy,” Browne said. “And it’s nice, having a little smaller group of guys so our coaching staff can be a little more aware of what’s going on in all the matches. So we’ll be looking for improvement, just trying to get one day better.”

Kapil Kashyap covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]