Time and time again, teams will preach the mantra that a ranking is “just a number” — claiming that they focus on their own performance and not how others perceive them. And while this is smart and healthy for the mental spirit and attitude of a team, rankings do indicate how a team does with the pressure on. Focusing on just your own team can only get you so far.
Over the past few weeks, the No. 13 Cal men’s tennis team (11-5) has dropped seven spots in the ITA rankings, falling out of the top 10. This drop is illustrative of the Bears’ seemingly stagnant performance over the past six matches. Cal is now desperately trying to claw its way out of a slump — one that reached its peak against TCU less than a week ago.
This past weekend, the No. 1-seeded Bears had a chance for redemption in Indian Wells, California, to compete in the BNP Paribas Collegiate Tennis Challenge. While Cal still doesn’t seem like the team that beat strong programs such as Baylor, UCLA and Michigan earlier in the season, it is showing signs up picking itself back up, going 2-1 this weekend while receiving third place in the tournament.
The Bears opened up the tournament by defeating unranked Purdue, 4-3. It’s puzzling as to why this match was so close — maybe it was the 95-degree heat or the fact that No. 14 senior Florian Lakat did not play singles. But when it comes down to it, a win is a win.
On Saturday, Cal faced familiar opponent No. 6 Baylor, which it defeated in their previous matchup this season, 4-2. This time, the Cal was not so fortunate as Baylor took revenge, coming out on top with a 4-0 win. Baylor is a strong team, but Cal has proved in the past that it is fully capable of winning the matchup, which makes the fact that it couldn’t win a single match even worse.
The match got off to a bad start for Cal when the No. 1 pair of Lakat and senior Filip Bergevi was unable to defeat its unranked opponents. It seemed to be an off day for the two, as both Lakat and Bergevi swallowed two-set losses in their singles matches as well. It all came to an end when freshman Nic Barretto lost in two very close sets to seal the loss.
The Bears didn’t lose hope for the rest of the tournament, though, as they were able to win their match, 4-1, against No. 9 Oklahoma. After clinching the doubles point, Cal took control in singles and finally looked like the top-10 team it was at the start of the season. Junior JT Nishimura clinched the match for the Bears, coming back after losing the first set to win 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Cal was finally able to get a significant win under its belt, something that it definitely needed. Mentally, it has to be difficult to lose so many matches in such a short span of time — the Bears are 2-4 in their past six matches.
Hopefully their win against Oklahoma can propel them back into having a winning mentality. While the NCAAs might seem far away, Cal has only a month to pull itself together, before it’s too late.
Taylor Choe covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]