Cal men’s tennis drops matches against Illinois, Michigan

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Zach Ryan/File

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Every cloud has a silver lining, and while Cal men’s tennis fell to No. 10 Illinois, 4-0, and No. 13 Michigan, 4-1, the experience was not as bleak as it appeared.

Friday at Illinois’ Atkins Tennis Center began with the hosts sweeping the doubles competition.

Illinois’ freshman duo of Alex Brown and Caleb Chakravarthi defeated Cal’s freshman Jacob Brumm and sophomore Dominic Barretto, 6-1, before the Fighting Illini clinched the doubles point with a 6-2 win over Cal’s freshmen Ben Draper and Jack Molloy.

“At the start of the match, our guys were a little bit nervous and understably so, with a lot of freshmen on the line,” said Peter Wright, Cal’s director of men’s tennis.

The Bears didn’t fare much better during singles play.

Senior Billy Griffith lost his match to Aleks Vukic 6-1, 6-3, and Brown also defeated Molloy 6-0, 6-2. The Illini finished the day off with Chakravarthi’s win over Barretto 6-2, 6-2.

While these three were clear wins for Illinois, three matches remained unfinished.

Though disappointing for Cal, the loss was a learning experience for the nine underclassmen on the Bears’ 11-person roster. Playing a ranked team team in a hostile away environment added to the challenge.

“The learning curve is steep,” Wright said. “Usually you have a couple of freshmen on the line, (but) these guys are all trying to learn at the same time.”

Whether the team is in home or away territory, however, freshman Paul Barretto maintains his role of being what Wright calls the team’s emotional leader. As soon as a point of his own is over, Barretto instantly looks over to his teammates’ courts and shouts encouragement their way.

“Trying to get as much energy as possible, especially when we play away, is really important,” Paul Barretto said. “This trip kind of woke us up on the road with the crowd being against us and it being kind of hectic. Especially since there’s not many fans in the crowd cheering for us, it’s important that we pump each other up and give each other a lot of motivation to fight.”

After a day of rest, Cal travelled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play the Wolverines. The Bears would lose the match, 4-1, but it was nevertheless another important learning experience for the team.

Getting the doubles point was a significant accomplishment, with Draper and Molloy winning their match and Griffith and senior J.T. Nishimura defeating the No. 9 doubles pair — Alex Knight and Runhao Hua — to clinch the point.

“The doubles point was huge,” Paul Barretto said. “Everyone was really engaged in it, and they all performed extremely well. They came back on every single court. … They fought their way back.”

Griffith saw Knight, the third-ranked singles player in the nation, a second time during singles and nearly won a point for the Bears.

The match ended unfinished, but with a score of 6-4, 6-7(2), 2-2, the competitiveness of the match gave the team some confidence walking away from a loss. Draper also had a match point, and his match ended unfinished 6-3, 4-6, 6-6.

“We played higher-quality tennis today, and our energy was good,” Wright said. “They outplayed us in a couple of areas. There is some disappointment about the outcome but … we’re playing better tennis each day. We’re in as positive of a place you can be after losing two matches.”

The weather and results in Big Ten country may have been stormy, but the Bears found a silver lining, taking away a vision for what they can achieve in coming matches.

Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]