Cal men’s tennis divides and conquers for weekend tournaments

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Divide and conquer. It’s the prevailing strategy for the Cal men’s tennis team this weekend as the squad disperses throughout various parts of California. Traveling as nearby as Marin County and far south as Santa Barbara, the Bears prepare to bring home a fresh set of experiences.

“We want to gain match toughness and get more prepared for the spring,” said junior Nikhil Jayashankar. “Going into each tournament, the goal is always the same, and that is to play well, implement things into your game and hopefully win a lot of matches.”

This weekend, Cal will head across the Bay for the third annual Battle of the Bay Classic, held at San Francisco’s historic California Tennis Club. The tournament will provide the best preview of the upcoming spring season as nationally ranked fellow Pac-12 teams such as USC and UCLA are slated to play. Three players — freshmen Andre Goransson and Filip Bergevi and junior Gregory Bayane — are confirmed entries, and it is still uncertain whether senior Campbell Johnson will play due to a hip injury he picked up earlier this week.

“(Johnson) is a question mark right now,” Wright said. “He’s still hurting a little bit.”

Concurrently, the other half of the team will participate in the UCSB Classic, competing against lesser-ranked teams such as Cal Poly. Historically, Cal has posted respectable results at the tournament. Bayane won singles in the Flight A draw and was a finalist with sophomore Wyatt Houghton in Flight A doubles last year.

Senior Ben McLachlan and sophomore Mads Engsted will not appear in either tournament this weekend, given their heavy schedules in the previous week. Junior Hasier Pastor will not play the entire year due to NCAA regulations.

Since the team’s results in these fall tournaments have no effect on its ITA ranking, Cal feels less competitive pressure and has welcomed each tournament weekend with eagerness.

“We want to use these matches to improve,” Jayashankar said. “Match play isn’t something you can practice. More than anything, we want to gain confidence in how we’re playing.”

But this past weekend, five players — McLachlan, Johnson, Pastor, Bayane and Bergevi — gained special experience and confidence as they attended the $100,000 First Republic Bank Tiburon Challenger. Aimed toward providing lower-ranked professionals more match-play opportunities, the pro-circuit tournament exposed the Bears to professional-level play.

“It helps our guys get invaluable experience playing on the pro tour,” said coach Peter Wright. “A lot of the guys on our team will be playing professional tennis one day.”

While Johnson was awarded a wild card to the main draw, his four teammates battled to earn one of the four berths into the main draw.

It was the young Bergevi who walked away with the most pleasant surprise. The Swede upset sixth-seed and former UCLA star Dennis Novikov in straights during the second round of qualifying, 6-3, 7-6(5), before losing in the next round to Canadian pro Philip Bester, 6-7(4), 2-6.

“He played a very solid match from start to finish,” Wright said. “(Bergevi) got the best win of anybody on our team this fall. He’s gonna be a future star.”

Jennifer Yu covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].