As the Cal men’s tennis team heads to North Carolina for Duke’s ITA Kick-Off Weekend, it will be focusing on one thing — winning.
The Bears will feature in the tournament alongside No. 23 Duke, No. 19 San Diego and Vanderbilt. The winner of the tournament progresses to the ITA National Indoor Team Championships, which will take place at Virginia on Feb. 12-15.
The prospect of playing at the indoor tournament is a tempting one for any team and Cal will look to outlast their higher-ranked opponents in the tournament. The Bears had a very impressive fall season with junior No. 3 Andre Goransson being the standout performer.
Cal, however, unexpectedly lost the first dual match of the season against then-No. 29 Tulsa. This loss pushed the Bears from No. 21 to outside the top 25. The match was characterized by some sloppy play from the Bears in doubles, along with upset losses in singles.
The Bears will be playing the Blue Devils in the opening fixture of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, and this match promises to be an exciting one, especially considering the quality of both sides. Duke currently has a record of 1-1 with its last match being a close 4-3 loss to Kentucky. The winner of this match will face the winner of the dual match between San Diego and Vanderbilt, and the overall winner heads to the championships.
“Our perspective right now is one match at a time,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “Duke is a very consistent team and playing them at home is an uphill task. We’re looking at how each match will help us in becoming a better team rather than thinking of the national indoors. Every match will help us in tweaking our tactics, and this will be very useful in the long run.”
Cal could field a slightly different lineup for the doubles considering the performance against Tulsa. Moreover, Cal’s doubles performance will be very important in the matchup against Duke as the Blue Devils have won the doubles point in their last two matches, with the pair of Nicolas Alvarez and Vincent Lin proving themselves as high pressure players in the matchup against Kentucky. The pair came back from a 0-3 deficit, to win the match 7-6 (5).
In the singles, Cal has the advantage over Duke as the Bears have five ranked players as opposed to Duke’s two ranked players. Apart from Goransson, junior No. 30 Florian Lakat will be a key player for the team. He also had a fine fall season that saw him feature in the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championship quarterfinals as well as the All-American round of 16. In spite of the advantage, Cal is susceptible to upset losses in the singles similar to what happened against Tulsa.
“All players are going to be key,” Wright said. “As you see from our results, you don’t always get wins from the players you expect to give the wins. Because we’re such a strong team from top to bottom, we’re looking to each guy to pull his way and I think all of them are capable of doing it.”
Duke’s ITA Kick-Off is one of the more competitive series of matchups across the nation, with all the teams being ranked in the top 30. Cal’s performance in the tournament will be a good representation of the team’s mentality and willpower when it faces strong teams. If Cal is able to progress to the national indoor championships, then it will be making a statement that the team has the depth and mental fortitude to compete with the top teams.
“We’re prepared for it,” Lakat said. “Obviously it is a big thing, but that’s what we practice for. It is important for us to keep our head cool and focus on the task at hand.”
Contact Devang Prasad at [email protected].