Three players of Cal men’s tennis reach shootout portion of Napa Valley Classic

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Zach Ryan/File

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Cal men’s tennis sent three of its top singles players through the pool round of the Napa Valley Classic this weekend and into the shootout portion of the tournament. An unusual first-to-10-points advances style of play made chaos the norm in the shootout. In a pool of eight players, only one non-Cal player was ranked in the top 100 in the nation, so the Bears’ chances of repeating as champions looked pretty good.

But chaos reigned, and unranked sophomore Jimmy Bendeck of Baylor nabbed an early-season title against Tulsa sophomore Dominic Bechard.

“It was a bit of a surprise to see the final (without any Cal players),” said Cal junior Billy Griffith.  “But hey, it’s the shootout and anything can happen, and they’re both good players.”

Griffith emerged victorious in last year’s edition of the tournament, and had little trouble moving out of his round-robin pool. He dropped one out of the seven sets he played, and won four of them with ease. He dropped his first set against Baylor freshmen Bjoern Petersen, and had to stretch to win the next two sets 6-3, 7-5.

Cal senior Andre Goransson faced a similar scenario in round-robin play, winning two matches in easy straight sets and having to overcome a first-set loss in another. Senior Filip Bergevi also managed to advance despite losing one match in pool play and need to scratch out a three-set win against No. 27 senior Nick Crystal from USC.

Bendeck defeated Bergevi in the first round of the shootout 10-4, the largest margin of victory of any win in the shootout. Goransson also lost in the first round of the shootout, battling Bechard every bit of the way in a 12-10 loss, making it the only shootout match that required extra points to be played. Griffith defeated USC senior Rob Bellamy to advance to the semifinals but fell to Bendeck 10-7, while Bendeck went on to defeat Bechard 10-8 to clinch the title.

“There’s not a lot of second chances in the shootout, you really have to get out to a fast start,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “We talk about being mentally prepared to sprint, it’s a very short race. You have to be ready for very high pressure points right off the bat. There’s a little bit of luck in the shootout too, which is what makes it exciting. But we lost only one match to a college player all weekend, that’s a positive.”

Bergevi and fellow senior Florian Lakat, the second-ranked doubles team in the nation, got in some practice during the informal doubles portion of the tournament. But there’s not much work needed in that partnership, as illustrated by its success. On the other hand, as Griffith and Goransson were both looking for partners, they teamed up and nabbed a win in what could be a picture of what’s to come.

“It was nice to finally get a win with (Goransson),” Griffith said. “We didn’t win (in our only Pac-12 match together) last year, so it was definitely fun to finally get a win. It was a lot of fun, it always is playing with Andre.”

Andrew Wild covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]