While the No. 26 Cal men’s tennis team has had a rather up-and-down season, the team’s mantra has been that it is the NCAAs that really matter. Well, now it’s time to see how exactly the Bears will do in the NCAA tournament when the team heads to Austin, Texas, for the first round, where they’ll be a No. 2 seed. The team, which is making its 16th straight tournament appearance, will kick things off Friday morning against No. 56 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a No. 3 seed.
And while the team competition is going on, Cal will have a representative in the 64-player NCAA singles draw: No. 29 sophomore Andre Goransson, who has been stellar for the Bears this year. Coming off last year, when he played primarily on court No. 4, Goransson has amassed a 13-4 record this season on court No. 1. He has taken on some of the top talent in the country and come away with big victories over players such as USC’s then-No. 6 Yannick Hanfmann (6-4, 6-1), Stanford’s then-No. 30 Tom Fawcett (7-5, 6-0) and Tulsa’s then-No. 37 Or-Ram Harel (6-1, 6-0).
While Goransson will try his hand in the singles draw — the first of his still-young career — he will also be crucial to the Bears’ play on the team side of the tournament. His presence on court No. 1 is crucial to the team, and Goransson’s aggressive, strong style of play helps him neutralize the opposing team’s top talent. Other teams have to be wary of Goransson because while he’s had a couple of matches in which he struggled or lost when he maybe shouldn’t have, when he’s good, he’s really good.
Cal still does have a deep lineup, although it will be interesting to see what order of courts is trotted out on match day. Head coach Peter Wright has moved several players up and down the courts — often as necessitated by injuries — keeping the same order on only court No. 1 with Goransson and court No. 2, where No. 97 Filip Bergevi, also a sophomore, has looked good for the Bears.
Before the release of the tournament draw, Wright said he might play around with the lineup depending on the health of his team. Senior Gregory Bayane has been dealing with a nagging injury and, since he’s half of the No. 51 doubles team, Bayane might sit out a singles match or two. Bayane’s doubles partner, redshirt senior Chase Melton, has been dealing with recurring back problems that have contributed to the pair’s unpredictability.
Other Bears have also been dealing with late-season injuries, including freshmen Billy Griffith, who recently returned to the court, and J.T. Nishimura, who injured his hip in the Pac-12 tournament.
But with the extra week off between the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA tournament, Wright said, he thinks the injured players will have a little bit of time to heal and come back strong at the start of the tournament. Junior Oskar Wikberg will round things out for the Bears, assuming the Cal lineup does stay relatively similar to what the team has used thus far.
Leading Texas A&M will be No. 99 senior Peter Nagy, the three-time Southland Conference Player of the Year. Nagy tallied only three losses on his way to an 18-3 record on court No. 1 that includes wins against three ranked opponents. The team as a whole secured a tournament bid after winning the Southland Tournament title for the seventh time.
With the Islanders lacking the Bears’ depth, however, Cal should be hard to beat in the first round if it plays its best tennis with completely healthy athletes.