Cal’s JT Nishimura wins singles at Aggie Invitational

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Rachael Garner/File

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Though most of the spotlight has been directed at veteran men’s tennis players, the Aggie Invitational this weekend offered a chance for younger players to shine. With a squad of five — including senior and reigning champion Mads Engsted, sophomore J.T. Nishimura, senior Jordan Smith and freshmen Ryan Shen and Gunther Matta — the Cal men’s tennis team traveled up to Davis, California, this weekend to compete at the Marya Welch Tennis Center.

Though they were without some key players, the Bears managed to show their prowess, with Engsted reaching the semifinals for the top singles flight and Nishimura reaching the finals.  Nishimura upset UC Davis’ Alec Adamson, who was the runner-up in the Battle of the Bay tournament, 6-3, 6-2, to make the finals. Nishimura ultimately won the singles title Sunday afternoon against Nevada’s Ryan Andrada, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0.

Following in Engsted’s footsteps, Nishimura secured Cal’s legacy at the tournament.

“J.T. showed a lot of maturity in this event, and his game has developed a lot over the last year.  He was more physical out there. He was more strategic, and he worked his way through some difficult parts of matches, so his problem solving has also improved,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright.  “It was a very positive weekend for him.”

The freshmen also had a successful performance in their first collegiate tournament. Ranked No. 2 in singles group B, Shen defeated two opponents in close matches to reach the semifinals before losing to UC Davis player Everett Maltby. Matta reached the semifinals of the singles group B consolation bracket and fell to another UC Davis player, Adam Levie, 1-6, 7-6(5), 1-0(9).

“(The freshmen) won a couple of tough ones, and they both lost very close matches — but overall, they are playing at a high level, so that was encouraging to see,” Wright said.

Smith, who was also knocked down to the consolation bracket early in the tournament, lost his first consolation match to Nevada’s Peter O’Donovan.

Simultaneously this weekend, juniors Andre Goransson and Florian Lakat played in the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger, each losing to professional players after reaching the round of 16.

“These opportunities to play at the pro level are really helpful for them in terms of the college season coming up and their confidence, and it will also help them with their overall transition to the pro tour after college,” Wright said.

The next big competition on the Bears’ agenda is the ITA Men’s All-American Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Cal will be sending top players Goransson, Lakat and Filip Bergevi. The tournament features the best players from colleges across the country, who have to play through prequalifying and qualifying rounds to enter.

Despite having a winner at each of the three tournaments they have entered this fall, the Bears are continuing to work on their skill in anticipation of their upcoming tournaments.

“I am working on my serve right now and trying to get some more variation in my game. I have been changing a lot of things up with the coaches this year and building on stuff from the previous year,” Nishimura said. “I think we have a great chance for one of our players to come out on top in the next couple of tournaments.”

Lucy Schaefer covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]