On court No. 5 on Saturday, Cal men’s tennis player Billy Griffith was locked in a battle. It was his first match back after a strained abdominal muscle left him frustrated on the sideline, and the freshman had dropped the first set to the Cardinal’s Nolan Paige, 3-6 — but Griffith fought back in a tight second-set tiebreak to walk away with a narrow second set, 7-6 (5). He went up early in the third set, but Paige started coming back, closing in on Griffith’s lead at Taube Family Tennis Stadium in Palo Alto, California.
It was the last match of the day, so it was in front of a large crowd. It was the No. 24 Cardinal’s Senior Day, which drew family, friends and even some fraternities — Griffith and Paige went back and forth, back and forth.
While Paige upped his game, Griffith did, too. Griffith ended up taking the third and final set, 6-4, to clinch the team victory at the Big Slam for the No. 28 Bears, 5-2.
“At the end of the day, Billy really won the match,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “The nice part is that (Paige) raised his game, and Billy stayed with him.”
The match was almost the exact opposite of the prior time the two teams met Feb. 21, when Stanford beat Cal, 4-3. In the match, the Bears clinched the doubles point behind wins from Gregory Bayane and Chase Melton on court No. 1, and from Filip Bergevi and Mads Engsted on court No. 3. But in that match, sophomore Andre Goransson lost his match, as did Griffith, J.T. Nishimura and Oskar Wikberg.
This time around, however, the Bears lost the doubles point behind losses from the pairing of Bayane and Melton on the top court, as well as from Goransson and Wikberg on court No. 3.
“We weren’t really in that doubles point at the start of the match,” Wright said. “There were a lot of people supporting the Stanford guys, (and) I just think it helped the Stanford guys play better.”
But on the singles courts, the Bears were lights-out — pure dynamite. On court No. 1, No. 35 Goransson got a little bit of redemption against No. 31 Tom Fawcett, where despite a close 7-5 first set, Goransson dominated Fawcett, 6-0, in the second. Wikberg also had a big two-set victory — 6-3, 6-3 — on court No. 3, as did Nishimura on court No. 4, with his 7-5, 7-5 tiebreak win. A notable absence from the singles lineup was Bayane, who has been dealing with some small injuries.
“Oskar (Wikberg) played a very solid match to help us and gave each of the guys some confidence,” Wright said. “It hasn’t been his most consistent season, so that was a very positive outcome.”
Wright also said he was very proud of how the freshmen — Griffith and Nishimura — performed, especially because it was Griffith’s first time out of the gate in a while and because Nishimura won a tough match after losing a tough match last time.
The Bears, however, did also suffer a couple of losses. On court No. 6, Engsted fell, 6-7 (1), 0-6. And on court No. 2, No. 91 Bergevi was locked in a three-set contest but ultimately couldn’t pull past No. 60 John Morrissey, falling, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6. His loss set up Griffith clinching the match.
But overall, the tone of the match was incredibly positive, especially because the Bears were able to snap the Cardinal’s 10-game win streak that dates back to Feb. 28.
‘That was a particularly satisfying win — a little bit of redemption and a lot of great tennis,” Wright said. “When Cal plays Stanford in tennis, you know it’s going to be a great match.”