Cal men’s tennis travels to Tulsa, UCSB

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Cal men’s tennis looks to continue its surprising domination of the collegiate tennis ranks as two separate contingents of the team will tackle two separate tournaments this week. The Bears will compete in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the ITA Men’s All-American Championships from Oct. 5 to Oct. 12 and at the UCSB Gaucho Classic from Oct. 9 to Oct. 11.

The qualifying singles round of the ITA tournament has already concluded as junior Filip Bergevi was knocked off in an upset to Northwestern’s Konrad Zieba, 7-6(7), 6-2, in the round of 64. Bergevi failed to join fellow juniors Andre Goransson and Florian Lakat, who will be competing in the main singles and doubles draw of the tournament beginning Oct. 8. Goransson looks to better his performance from last season, where he dropped the opening round of 64 to Duke’s Nicolas Alvarez, 6-0, 3-6, 6-2.

The All-American Tournament features some of the nation’s best collegiate tennis prospects who will travel from all around the country for the competition.

“(The ITA All-American Tournament) is one of the college tennis grand slams, so the guys who play in that are some of the top players in the country,” said Cal men’s tennis head coach Peter Wright. “It’s comparable to the NCAA Championships in terms of the quality of player who’s there. The winner of the tournament gets the No. 1 ranking in the country.”

In addition, the singles quarterfinalists, doubles finalists and consolation champions at the ITA All-American tournaments earn automatic bids into the USTA/ ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships from Nov. 12 to Nov. 15, held in Flushing Meadows, New York.

With strong performances at the $100,000 Wells Fargo Tiburon Challenger, Goransson and Lakat have made strides in the physical and mental attributes of their games. They hope to use experiences competing against marquee players in the professional tour to better themselves against the top collegiate competition featured at the ITA tournament.

“In the doubles, Andre (Goransson) and Florian (Lakat) beat the guy who beat Rafael Nadal in Wimbledon, Dustin Brown and Denis Kudla,” Wright said. “(Competing at the professional tournaments) means that their minds and their games are starting to get them into that next level of tennis, which is the professional level.”

The second group of Bears competing will head to Santa Barbara, California and compete against UCLA, Stanford, Fresno State, UC Davis and LMU. The remainder of the team will head over to the tournament, but not all the Bears will compete, as several players, including seniors Wyatt Houghton, Mads Engsted and Jordan Smith, are currently nursing injuries. Smith and Houghton were unable to compete at the UC Davis Aggie Invitational this past weekend, and whether they get playing time at the UCSB Gaucho Classic remains to be seen.

“For those guys going to Santa Barbara, it’s a positive tournament that’s within their skill level and I fully expect our guys to do well there,” Wright said. “For us, the fall is all about development and playing individual tournaments and for having the guys get experiences, wins and losses.”

The team has dominated collegiate competition thus far during the fall portion of the schedule, with the veterans of the team — such as Goransson and Bergevi — and the younger, emerging players — like Billy Griffith and J.T. Nishimura — putting forth strong efforts against stiff competition. The early returns for the Bears, who struggled with a lack of depth and inexperience last season, have been positive.

“Billy Griffith won the Napa event and that gave him a wild-card, which is a special entry into a professional tournament as well. With J.T. (Nishimura) winning this past weekend, in a funny way you could say we’ve played in three college tournaments so far and won all three of them,” Wright said. “I don’t know if that’s going to continue at the All-American Tournament in Tulsa or at Santa Barbara but it’s certainly a good start and bodes well for the team for the rest of the fall and going into spring.”

Shiktij Dave covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]