Cal men’s tennis prepares for Big Slam

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Debbie Yuen/File

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It’s a cloudy day, practice is over and only three people are left at the Hellman Tennis Complex — director of men’s tennis Peter Wright, associate head coach Tyler Browne and freshman Ben Draper.

As Wright stands on the court and shouts for Draper to get lower at the net, it becomes clear that it’s the week of the Big Slam and Cal men’s tennis has no time to waste before the team faces its rival.

“They have a good team, we have a good team, and it makes for a great tennis match,” Wright said. “We’re looking forward to going to Stanford and giving them all they want and a little bit more.”

In February, the Bears fell, 4-1, to the Cardinal when the two teams met in Berkeley for a nonconference match. Home court advantage was not enough to give Cal the edge over the favored victors, but the Bears still remain optimistic going forward.

Cal’s one point came from senior captain Billy Griffith’s upset win over then-No. 14 senior Tom Fawcett in singles. Griffith, then ranked No. 79, countered Fawcett’s aggressive nature, a strategy that eventually translated into one of his biggest wins of the season.

Though Stanford won the match, it was anything but a clean, easy sweep. Senior captain J.T. Nishimura and Draper lost in tiebreaker sets, while freshmen Jack Molloy and Paul Barretto were forced to abandon their matches, which were also pushed to three sets.

If the team can put what they learned from that first match into action this Friday, the Cardinal will definitely be in for another tight match — one that could even end the other way.

“I thought we played a good match the first time out,” Wright said. “They were a little better than us on the day, but I like to think that our team has improved considerably since then.”

Stanford’s No. 23 pair of Fawcett and freshman Axel Geller (12-5) beat Draper and Molloy in doubles, 6-3, and has moved up in the polls since the teams last played, although Fawcett and Geller been struggling lately. The duo dropped two of its past three matches, including one to Utah’s then-No. 87 pair.

During the past few weeks, the Bears have placed emphasis on improving their doubles play, not only to counter their Cardinal opponents, but also as to prepare for the postseason.

Lately, their efforts during practice have translated into wins for the team. Cal recorded a clean sweep over USF on Tuesday right after knocking out then-No. 32 Utah in an quick 4-0 match Sunday.

“I feel that one of the other things we’re doing well is we’re getting mentally stronger and tougher every match out,” Wright said. “Our mentality going into these matches is very positive, and the expectations we have are incredibly high every time we go out.”

While Stanford may be welcoming Cal as young cubs more than bears, the team the Cardinal saw earlier in the season has significantly grown, and the Bears are eager to prove it.

“We’re ready to play,” Wright said.

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