Double the struggle: No. 17 Cal women’s tennis falls flat against No. 48 USC, No. 9 UCLA

Nicholas Chun/Staff

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The recipe to winning in tennis is a fast start in the doubles point, but the No. 17 Cal women’s tennis team failed to set the tone early in either of its losses against No. 48 USC and No. 9 UCLA this past weekend.

The Bears (4-3) couldn’t recover from early deficits, falling to the Trojans (7-2), 4-3, and the Bruins (8-2), 5-2, in a rough Southern California trip that was accentuated by solid singles play but subpar doubles play.

In doubles, the Trojans struck gold when senior Gabby Smith and sophomore Becca Weissmann clinched the doubles point with a resounding win over juniors Olivia Hauger and Maria Smith, stunning the Bears right out of the gates.

The freshman tandem of Anna Bright and Julia Rosenqvist fell, 6-1, to the No. 39 doubles pairing in the nation of junior Rianna Valdes and sophomore Angela Kulikov.

Friday’s slow start in doubles against USC particularly cost Cal down the stretch. The trio of strong performances in singles by Hauger, Smith and Bright kept the Bears in contention. In retrospect, the doubles point became the difference between the winner and loser.

Hauger — the No. 42 singles player in the nation — and Smith secured upsets over No. 30 senior Gabby Smith and No. 110 senior Madison Westby, respectively, bringing the Bears back after their doubles struggles.

But with the overall match tied at three, USC’s Valdes strung together a dramatic rally against Cal’s Rosenqvist in singles. Valdes overcame a loss in the first set to best Rosenqvist, 6-7(3), 7-6(3), 6-1, securing the Trojans’ biggest win of the early season.

With the Bears still listing senior Karla Popovic as inactive, the freshman Rosenqvist played well down the stretch, falling just short to an older and more experienced veteran.

But Popovic’s veteran presence has been a missing component to a young and still-developing Cal roster, evidenced in a clear-cut manner Saturday against the Bruins.

UCLA raced out to a 5-0 lead, clinching the match when No. 40 freshman Abi Altick took care of Cal freshman Vivian Glozman, 6-4, 6-1, in singles. While the scoreboard indicates a lopsided result, Cal didn’t fold after another rough start.

Rosenqvist delivered a hard-fought upset over UCLA senior Terri Fleming, the No. 73 singles player, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, outsmarting her older opponent while adding another win to her early-season resume.

Freshman Hana Mraz, another late addition to Cal, also took strides in her development by playing her first singles match as a Bear against USC, falling to sophomore Constance Branstine, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

With a freshmen core of five complementing the team’s veterans, the Bears will progress this season preparing for the future while also trying to trend upward in the NCAA rankings. The road gets no easier, however, as a rematch with USC and UCLA awaits Cal in two weeks — this time at the Hellman Tennis Complex in Berkeley.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].