Unranked Cal men’s tennis duo upends three top-30 pairings

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Getting waitlisted rarely ends in as much success as it did for Yuta Kikuchi and Jacob Brumm. The freshman and sophomore members of the Cal men’s tennis team, respectively, had never played together in a collegiate match before the ITA All-American Championships where they started as an unranked and unknown duo.

They weren’t going to be able to compete in the tournament unless a pairing from another team didn’t show up. Just like students wait to get into classes that are full, Kikuchi and Brumm didn’t know if they would be playing doubles in Tulsa. Unfortunately for their opponents, they did.

In the next five days of play, the Cal partners upset No. 30 UCSB, No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 1 Mississippi State, among others in a journey that took them to the quarterfinals of the main draw.

“I had never even practiced with Yuta going into the tournament, and I would have never have expected for us to reach the quarterfinals and beat the No. 1 doubles team in the country,” Brumm said. “It took me by surprise. … It was definitely one of the highlights of my tennis career so far.”

Brumm played in the ITA All-American Championships last year but never made it to the main draw of the tournament. The tournament is segmented into three sections: a two-day prequalifying round for singles only and a qualifying round before the four-day main event. Brumm and Kikuchi got the news that they were in the tournament a day before the qualifying round. The pairing beat UCSB 7-5, 6-1 and Virginia 7-5, 6-3 before being felled by Florida in a tight match.

This loss in the final round once again put them on a waitlist to enter the main draw, dependent on the withdrawal of other qualified teams. Luckily, they were selected to advance to the main round only to learn they would be matched up against Mississippi State’s No. 1 duo Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic.

“I was nervous but also excited at the opportunity,” Brumm said.

The Bears split sets with them 6-3, 4-6 before winning a close tiebreaker 10-5 to topple the best duo in the country.

“We were just so happy after we won, and it was such a close match, really competitive — the other team was getting super feisty and fired up,” Brumm said. “We’ve proven that if we beat the No. 1 team in the country, we can beat anyone in the country.”

The next day Brumm and Kikuchi solidified their dominance by knocking down Virginia Tech’s No. 16 Mitch Harper and Carlo Donato 7-6, 6-3. Their run was cut short the following day by a team from Ohio State.

“Whether its singles or doubles, this last week was a really good week of putting myself, Yuta and UC Berkeley on the map,” Brumm said. “We just kept rolling.”

The Bears spent seven days at the All-American tournament where six players battled competitors from around the country in singles and doubles.

“It was a very positive experience for our guys in doubles and singles,” said Peter Wright, the men’s tennis director. “We had some outstanding play during the tournament.”

Other Cal players attended the UCSB Classic this weekend. Among them was Can Kaya, who won the C flight singles title. Kaya was eager to play in this tournament after losing in the semifinals last year.

“I’m really happy with the result,” Kaya said. “I also feel much better on the court, as I know what to do better; mentally and physically, I feel stronger.”

Next week the entire Cal roster will attend the ITA Northwest Regional Championships in Seattle, which is held a week earlier than usual giving the Bears little time to prepare.

“That’s one of the best things about this tournament. … It was really helpful before the regionals to get in a couple of good matches,” Kaya said.

Trilok Reddy covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].