No. 24 Cal men’s tennis prepares for Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge

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After whitewashing Hawaii and USF, 4-0, the No. 24 Cal men’s tennis team heads to Austin, Texas, to participate in the Big 12/Pac-12 Challenge. The Bears looked to be in good shape in their victories this past week, but in Austin, they will be facing a much bigger challenge in the form of Texas and No. 2 TCU.

The Longhorns and the Bears have a history of facing each other in important matches. Worryingly for the Bears, their last two eliminations in the NCAA Championships came at the hands of the Longhorns. The Bears were defeated 4-1 in both years.

For Cal, however, the time is ripe to finally defeat Texas. Cal has five ranked players in its roster as opposed to Texas’s two. The Longhorns have only won one match in their last five and do not look to be in good form. Their last match was a 4-0 defeat at the hands of No. 8 Ohio State.

“I don’t think that it will be a factor,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright of Cal’s record against the Longhorns. “We’re focusing on the match. Every match is a building block to the next one and I’m confident that we are in a good position to perform well.”

Against Texas, Cal will look to take an advantage in doubles given the Longhorns’ difficulties in the format. Texas has only been able to take one doubles point in the last five matches. Cal showcased its doubles prowess in the last two matchups, where after shuffling the pairs, the Bears were able to post dominant wins.

In singles, Cal looks to be the superior team but Texas player Michael Riechmann may cause problems. He has a 16-5 record in singles and his experience can prove to be valuable for the whole team’s chances. Riechmann was also victorious in his singles matches against SMU and Ole Miss earlier this year.

The Bears’ biggest test, however, will be against TCU, which has forged a reputation as one of the best tennis programs in the country. The Horned Frogs powered to a win at the ITA Kick-Off Weekend with wins over San Diego State and Oklahoma State. With those two victories, the Horned Frogs advanced to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.

“TCU is a very good team and has some talented players,” Wright said. “Our guys are not focusing on the rankings, however. They are looking forward to playing them and gain experience. TCU has three lefties in its starting rotation and that will make the match even more competitive.”

There is a potential clash of the Titans in this matchup if No. 3 junior Andre Goransson plays against No. 4 Cameron Norrie. Norrie was very impressive in his recent straight set victory over Oklahoma State’s Temur Ismailov and will be looking forward to playing against Goransson.

Goransson, too, was very impressive in his match against USF last week. He was hitting the ball cleanly and played with a brilliant tactical mindset. He had noticed his opponent Nils Skajaa’s weakness on the backhand and constantly played hard, deep strokes on that side of Skajaa’s court. Goransson’s strategy paid off and he won the match 6-2, 6-0. No. 30 junior Florian Lakat also mesmerized with his performance in the double header against Hawaii and USF and will be a key player for Cal.

The Horned Frogs have only played two matches up until this weekend and have looked very impressive in both of them. Its doubles, however, can be where Cal can look to take an early lead in the tie. TCU won its doubles point against SDSU but lost against Oklahoma State.

A victory over both teams will bode well for the Bears’ prospects this season. Both the teams are strong competitors and Cal will definitely benefit from the experience in the long run.

“We’ve been having some good practice and our guys are looking good,” Wright said. “It will be some good tennis. We missed out on a few opportunities recently, so the guys are really looking forward to go and compete with these teams.”

Contact Devang Prasad at [email protected].