Following a two-week hibernation, the Bears were determined to begin conference play on a good note. And not even the thin Utah air or dry Arizona heat could stop them from doing so.
The No. 12 Bears (9-7) traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday to face the Utes (11-6) and emerged as 6-1 victors. They then made a quick turnaround to Tucson, AZ on Sunday and defeated the Wildcats (5-12), 5-2.
The dual match Friday against the Utes was Cal’s first since March 11, when they lost to No. 6 Duke.
The Bears entered the first match of conference play against a Utah team that, on paper, is not particularly intimidating. None of its players are ranked in either singles or doubles, and it had long been a member of the weaker Western Athletic Conference. Playing in Salt Lake City, however, makes any game against the Utes a challenge. There, the city’s high altitude becomes a very real factor – the thinner air means players get less oxygen when breathing and the ball’s trajectory is changed.
“With the higher altitude, the air is thinner and the ball will fly a lot further and faster,” senior captain Nick Andrews said. “We had to adjust by hitting with less spin and we couldn’t play as aggressively at the start. Luckily, we were able to make the necessary adjustments in order to win.”
Cal didn’t win so much as crush its opponent. The Bears swept doubles and quickly seized the first two singles without surrendering a set. Andrews then clinched the match by defeating Benito Suriano in a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 decision.
The Bears continued their dominant play on Sunday in LaNelle Robson Tennis Center, pulling off a 5-2 victory over the Wildcats. While the dry heat didn’t factor into the players’ performance as much as the high altitude in Utah, coach Peter Wright still noted the effect on his players.
“Arizona presents some differences that you just won’t see when you’re playing in Berkeley,” Wright said. “Your opponent is going to take advantage of that situation since they’re playing at home and when the match lasts nearly five hours total, your players might start feeling it. That being said, our guys competed and did well – It’s a great way to start off the Pac-12.”
In similar fashion to their previous match, Cal began by sweeping doubles and taking the 1-0 advantage. The No.3 doubles tandem of Andrews and junior Christoffer Konigsfeldt highlighted that portion of the match by seizing seven straight sets at one point, ultimately winning 8-2 over Sebastian Ionescu and Sumeet Shinde.
The Bears continued their dominance into singles play, nearly mirroring their fast 4-0 victory in Utah. Andrews continued his weekend success with a dominant 6-0, 6-0 decision over Giacomo Miccini. Carlos Bermudez, however, defeated Konigsfeldt 7-6 (5), 6-2, pushing Cal to 2-1. However, the Bears took the next two match points to seal the win and take them to 2-0 in conference play.
These two dual matches, along with the next two against Washington and Oregon, will be important in establishing a strong record before facing the tougher conference opponents like No. 5 UCLA, No. 1 USC, and No. 8 Stanford. All three of those teams are currently ranked higher than Cal and have notched victories against the team in dual matches earlier this year.