Cal men’s tennis faces tough tests at BNP Collegiate Challenge

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As the men’s collegiate tennis season progresses into conference play — with each player focused on their own gains and goals — it’s easy to forget sometimes that there is much more beyond Pac-12 competition.

The Cal men’s tennis team heads to Indian Wells, California, to compete in the BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Challenge. The Bears will be competing alongside professional players who are participating in their own tournament, making Cal’s trip down south more of a learning experience than anything else.

The student-athletes will be given the opportunity to showcase their talents to a broader group of fans. In between matches, they also might just happen to stumble upon viewing professional showdowns across the way. As the college players battle it out on the outer courts, the likes of Roger Federer will be playing with his “Swiss Army” faithful watching in the massive show court that looms over the entire complex.

To open the tournament, the Bears will be facing Purdue. The teams know each other well, as they also faced one another in the opening round at Indian Wells a year ago. The Bears squeaked out a 4-3 victory against the Boilermakers in 2017 after senior J.T. Nishimura clinched the win on court No. 5.

Nishimura and company will hope to replicate that performance, and they probably would not mind a bigger margin of victory at the same time.

Ultimately, the Bears went on to take third place at last season’s tournament, albeit among a stronger field. Cal can capitalize on a weaker field of teams in this year’s bracket — none of the eight teams in the draw rank in the NCAA top 25.

Last time out, the Bears got away with a lackluster performance in Tempe, Arizona, with a little help from Mother Nature. After Cal got off to a rocky start against the Sun Devils, the match was suspended and ultimately postponed because of rain. The Bears then got it together to officially start off their Pac-12 campaign in winning fashion after beating Arizona, 4-1.

With the Sun Devils also heading to Indian Wells this weekend, a potential rematch between the two teams could be in the works, should both squads advance to the final.

Cal has been sticking with the duo of sophomore Dominic Barretto and freshman Can Kaya at the No. 3 doubles spot. After switching that pairing around earlier in the season, the pair of underclassmen have looked solid and recently sustained a 6-2 win against Arizona senior Trent Botha and freshman Filip Malbasic. The goal is for Barretto and Kaya to continue to improve as the Cal coaches instill more confidence and belief in their younger players.

Of late, the Cal lineup was a bit of a revolving door, but more practice and stability has given the players the means to play up to their touted ability, as evidenced against the Wildcats.

Cal will have to focus and not let the glitz and allure of the top-level tournament distract it.
The sights, sounds and fanfare around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden have a chance to either motivate or deter the Bears from success.

Charlie Griffen covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].