Expectations were high going into the fall slate for the Cal men’s tennis team. Returning its top four players from a run to the Final Four last year ensured that, and so far it has been hard to say whether the Bears look poised to live up to those expectations heading into the dual match season. This weekend at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships, their best chance to show they belong among the nation’s best will be a fight on home territory.
“It’s great to be able to host a tournament of this caliber,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “It’s our guys’ home court, so we have familiarity, we can sleep in our own beds. It really gives us a lot of benefits.”
The location of the regionals rotate among the member schools’ home courts, and it seems fated that in the Bears’ most hyped season in recent memory, this crucial tournament will happen at the Hellman Tennis Complex. With doubles teams that have everything to lose and singles players that are trying to prove themselves, playing in front of a friendly crowd could dramatically alter the results and therefore Cal’s prospects heading into its spring schedule.
Seniors Filip Bergevi and Florian Lakat were the second-ranked doubles team in the nation heading into this season and lived up to that ranking by claiming the title at the All-American doubles draw after the first-ranked team was upset in the first round. They’ll need to go undefeated this weekend, and probably do so in dominant fashion, if they want to avoid disappointing or underwhelming results.
Wright has mixed and matched doubles teams beyond that top duo with mixed results. Billy Griffith and Andre Goransson played well together at the Napa Valley tournament early this season, but fell in the first round of the qualifying draw of All-Americans. Cal probably doesn’t need another All-American pair, but the teams beyond Lakat and Bergevi are highly uncertain and this tournament could shed some light on the situation.
“Doubles is a work in progress,” Wright said. “Certainly (Lakat and Bergevi) have established themselves as a great team. Then we’ll take a look at everyone else and just see where we have the chemistry.”
The singles results at the All-American championships were not as impressive. Lakat made a run to the quarterfinals before losing to Texas freshman Christian Sigsgaard in a back-and-forth match. No other Cal player managed to make it past the second round. Goransson played a very strong dual match season in 2016,and earned the No. 17 ranking in the nation. But after losing in the first round of the All-Americans to senior Jose Salazar of Arkansas and losing in the Napa Valley Shootout to Tulsa sophomore Dominic Bechard — who failed to make it past the qualifying round of All-American singles — Goransson will need a very strong showing to put his season back on track.
“Our focus has always been on the spring season,” Wright said. “In the fall, we’ve had some results that are reflective of the work on people’s games. We’re not so focused on the results as we are in spring. It’s a process for guys to get better.”
Andrew Wild covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].