In a way, being the “underdog” can be an advantage. The pressure is off and there are little to no expectations. But when the underdog pulls off an upset, it sure is impressive.
This weekend, the No. 12 Cal men’s tennis team (15-5, 2-0 Pac-12) will head into both of its matches as the underdog — a position it is not used to being in. The Bears will be facing two difficult Pac-12 rivals: No. 10 UCLA (13-4, 2-0) on Friday and No. 6 USC (19-3, 2-0) on Saturday.
“This weekend, we’ve been building our fitness and endurance,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “We’ve been doing a little more work off the court in preparation for Pac-12s and NCAAs. We’ve also been working on our doubles this week, and we’re looking forward to playing in this weekend’s match.”
Stamina and strength will definitely be necessary for Cal in order to defeat the Bruins and Trojans. And while USC is the highest ranked of the three, they’ve all beaten each other at some point, so both matches should be exciting if all three teams play at the level they are capable of playing at.
Friday afternoon, the Bears will face UCLA — not only a Pac-12 rival, but a little more personal UC rival. The Bruins have a few weapons on their roster in No. 15 Gage Brymer and No. 42 Martin Redlicki. In addition to its ranked singles players, UCLA also has the No. 7 ranked doubles team in Redlicki and Evan Zhu.
It has been a while since the No. 2 doubles pair of seniors Florian Lakat and Filip Bergevi has faced a top-10 ranked opponent. And with its lineup back to full force, Cal can boast a greater depth on its roster than the Bruins can, as well as strong senior leadership that will be extremely beneficial when it comes to big matches such as these.
“Some guys been through this and some guys haven’t,” Wright said. “I like the mixture of seasoned veterans and young guys. The juniors and seniors get to share with the freshmen ways of handling pressure and dealing with challenges they are going to face in Pac-12s and NCAAs. The senior leaders are really taking an active role in helping the young guys adapt to pressures of the matches this weekend.”
And the Bears’ match against USC on Saturday will definitely be a challenge. The Trojans have three ranked singles players in No. 19 Brandon Holt, No. 65 Logan Smith and No. 109 Nick Crystal. They also have two ranked singles teams in the No. 11 duo of Holt and Riley Smith and the No. 64 pair of Smith and Thibault Forget.
Once again, Cal seems to have the depth that both USC and UCLA seem to lack. After struggling a few weeks back, Cal winning even one out of the two this weekend will be extremely meaningful and will set the team up well for the approaching postseason.
Taylor Choe covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]