Not many Final Four teams can return their top four players the following year. Cal men’s tennis has achieved the feat, and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the Bears fate this season lies with whether or not those four can live up to the high expectations pushed onto them by earlier success.
It’s also hard to avoid the feeling that those four players form a separate unit within the team. This weekend, both of these feelings will get thorough examination as the core four head off to Tulsa for the Saint Francis Health Systems ITA All-American Championships, while the rest of the team takes a much shorter trip for the Aggie Invitational at UC Davis.
“We’ve always been about the entire team,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “When you look at who we returned, those four guys are the nucleus of the team in a lot of ways. We have an incredible cast of teammates, I think each person has a role to play. Those four guys are four of the top players in the country, but we have some guys right on their heels who are looking to do some damage this year.”
That core four, seniors Andre Goransson, Filip Bergevi, Florian Lakat and junior Billy Griffith have earned impressive preseason accolades, and the All-American Championships will be their first chance to show they that deserve them. Bergevi and Lakat are the second ranked doubles team in the nation, and have accordingly already qualified for the main doubles draw. Griffith and Goransson are a somewhat newly formed doubles team and will compete in the qualifying rounds.
“(Goransson) and (Griffith) both possess great doubles skill,” Wright said. “This time of year we try to look at chemistry. They’re obviously off to a good start, and this is an opportunity to build on that at the All-Americans.”
On the singles side, Lakat and Goransson have already earned berths into the main singles draw as the No. 13 and No. 17 ranked singles players in the nation. Griffith and Bergevi will both be attempting to qualify for the main singles draw as the No. 61 and No. 77 ranked players. The draws have yet to be released, but the Bears are sure to come up against some of the top players in the nation as they try and prove their might very early on in the season.
In last year’s Aggie Invitational, junior J.T Nishimura hoisted the singles title in a comeback 3-6, 6-1, 6-0 win, continuing a run of Cal success at the tournament. The now-graduated Mads Engsted had won the singles title the year before, and finished as the runner-up the in 2014. Nishimura and Engsted also made the quarterfinals of that tournament as a doubles team after having won the title the in 2013. Nishimura is still recovering from an injury, so he will not have a chance to defend his title, but freshman Bjorn Hoffman will be among those going in his place.
“It’s a little bit of pressure (to defend the title), but I’m not thinking about it that way,” Hoffman said. “I’m seeded pretty highly so it’s a good opportunity for me to do well. It’s my first time going and I hear it’s a good tournament, so I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
Andrew Wild covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].