Cal men’s tennis shifts focus to Pac-12 Championships after split weekend matches

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Maddie Khamnei/File

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Although it may at first look like it, sometimes a piece to a puzzle is not quite an exact fit. Unfortunately for the Cal men’s tennis team, it still has not identified that missing piece after splitting its weekend of matches against Washington and Oregon.

On Friday evening, the Bears (11-8) easily handled the Huskies (12-12) by a score of 4-1, as they were expected to, in the team’s penultimate home match of the spring. While they ceded the doubles point to the Huskies, the Bears ended up sweeping all the completed singles matches.

No. 58 senior Billy Griffith handled No. 62 senior Jake Douglas, 6-4, 6-2, while freshmen Ben Draper, Jack Molloy and Jacob Brumm followed suit with straight set beatdowns.

Saturday’s Senior Day, however, was a different result for Cal, as the team fell to Oregon, 4-2. Put simply, the Bears let their singles play get away from them. From the start, it was clear that the match against the Ducks was going to be competitive, especially after a nail-biter earlier in the season, which the Bears won, 4-3.

But this weekend, the Ducks had the last word.

It was the way in which the Bears fell that was particularly surprising, mostly because they kicked things off by securing the doubles point, which at times has been a rarity this season.

Molloy was the only Cal player to have any individual success, defeating Oregon senior Akihiro Tanaka, 6-1, 6-1. Meanwhile, Griffith and fellow senior J.T. Nishimura did not have an ideal Senior Day, as both suffered key singles losses to senior Simon Stevens and No. 24 junior Thomas Laurent, respectively.

While a split weekend was not the most ideal result heading into the postseason, it certainly is not horrible. It could have been worse, but both matches were the Bears’ to lose.

The team knew its weekend matches had huge implications for the upcoming postseason. With the loss, the Bears slipped to the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 Championships later this week in Ojai. Despite the disappointing loss to end the weekend, Cal maintains a positive attitude going into the postseason, fired up after leaving Berkeley with a bad taste in its mouth.

In 2017, the Bears reached the semifinals of the tournament after automatically qualifying to that round because of their second-place regular season finish in the Pac-12. If Cal hopes to reach that stage of the tournament again this year, then the team will have to put in much more work to get there.

Cal faces No. 7 seed Utah in the first round, and if the Bears can compete against the Utes as they did in the regular season, they will face No. 3 seed USC for a spot in the semifinals.

This will be a sure test of the young team’s mental toughness and one of the last opportunities the squad will have to put all the pieces together.

Charlie Griffen covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].

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