Cal men’s tennis reaches semis in Seattle, falls short of bid

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While other Cal sports struggled throughout homecoming Saturday, men’s tennis had both successes and shortcomings this past weekend.

At the ITA Northwest Regional Championships, 10 Bears competed for five days and got a real taste of traditional rivals, Stanford, Oregon and Washington, with many notable wins. All of them, however, fell short of reaching the finals and securing a coveted bid to the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships.

“I was pleased with how our guys played in general,” said Peter Wright, the Cal men’s tennis director. “Some of the guys didn’t get the results they were looking for, but overall, I think that we made a lot of progress as a team. Our guys played well.”

Freshman Yuta Kikuchi had another outstanding performance, including a win over Stanford’s ninth-seeded Timothy Sah in the quarterfinals, before being edged out in a close three-set match, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, by Oregon’s Emmanuel Coste. Kikuchi was one win away from securing his spot in Surprise, Arizona for the ITA National Fall Championships.

“Yuta is a special player. His style is very powerful — he’s a very accurate player and very aggressive,” Wright said. “From his results so far this fall, he’s certainly going to be a factor for us in singles and doubles in the spring.”

“The new freshman Yuta was completely chopping people up,” said teammate Paul Barretto. “Unstoppable at the net, huge at the baseline.”

Another tough matchup for Cal came in No. 102 Jacob Brumm’s match against No. 63 Cardinal Sameer Kumar in the quarterfinal. After losing the first set 6-3, the Bears were on upset alert after Brumm took the second set 6-3, but Kumar was able to stave off Brumm and won 6-1 in the final set.

“He basically geared up for war in that match,” Barretto said. “A physical battle.”

The Bears had similar results in doubles. Barretto and Can Kaya, who won the doubles title at the Milwaukee Invitational last month, beat Seattle University, Santa Clara, Stanford and Fresno State on the road to the semifinals.

“Here at regionals, we were expecting just to take it step by step, round by round, and next thing you know, we were in the semis,” Barretto said. “It was awesome.”

The two Bears, who were playing together for only the second time, squared up against Washington’s Jack Davis and Piers Foley on Sunday morning and fought hard in the first set to force a tiebreaker. After losing the tiebreaker, however, the match fell apart for Cal, which ended it 7-6, 6-3.

“Definitely a mental battle out there,” Barretto said. “We started out really hot, slapping huge winners, and then we died down a little bit.”

During the regular season in the spring, doubles matches are a single six-game set. In this tournament, like many other fall tournaments, the initial rounds are an eight-game set, and the later rounds are a full two-set match.

After a few weeks of rapid-fire tournaments, the Bears will get a weekend to recharge before heading to Moraga, California, for the Saint Mary’s Invitational. Cal will also be seeking some at-large bids to the National Fall Championships, which will be chosen closer to the tournament.

“We have a lot of depth in this team,” Wright said. “We have a lineup of guys that’s very flexible.”

Both Wright and Barretto were pleased with the progress made in the tournament and how they matched up against Pac-12 rivals, as the spring season approaches.

“Mentally, I think we’re all in a really good place right now, feeling really good about our games,” Barretto said. “We’re looking forward to great things.”

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