Cal men’s tennis fine-tunes skills at Saint Mary’s Invitational

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When most tennis players want to work on their game, they go to extra practices, work with a coach or hit with a friend, but this weekend Cal sophomores Can Kaya and Jackson Suh tuned up by winning the back draw doubles title at the Saint Mary’s Invitational.

“My expectations were just getting in a couple good matches in singles and doubles,” Kaya said. “I just wanted to see how I can change stuff I’ve been working on: Changing my serve a little bit, my game from the baseline, and I just tried to put those in my game.”

The tournament was split up into an A draw and a B draw of 32 players for singles and doubles. The Bears duo fell in the first round to Santa Clara’s Connor Garnett and Robert Seby 8-6, before going on a three-game winning streak, culminating in an 8-6 comeback against Santa Clara’s Andrew Gu and Vasileios Iliopoulos.

“It went actually really well,” said assistant head coach Tyler Browne. “It didn’t start out the way that Can and Jackson would’ve liked … but they showed a lot of resilience and they showed the ability to problem solve.”

Serving was a focal point for Kaya and the Bears during this tournament.

“I think the biggest improvement I saw from both the guys is they learned how to help their partner hold serve,” Browne said. “I think Can and Jackson, in particular, are learning more about how to play as an individual doubles player while still making their partner better.”

Kaya and Suh’s nerves and serves were tested in the doubles final as they went down two breaks before staging a comeback to win the consolation title.

“Some of the things that weren’t working for them early in the match, they were able to make adjustments through the middle and were able to then capitalize towards the end and come away with an 8-6 win,” Browne said. “I was pleased with the ways the guys performed and ways the guys handled themselves under pressure.”

In singles, Suh lost to Iliopoulos in the first round, while Kaya beat Santa Clara’s Santiago Hinojosa, both in long three-set matches Friday. Kaya faced another grueling three-set match Saturday when he fell to UC Davis’ Ivan Thamma.

As the fall portion of the tennis season draws to a close, the Bears are looking to make small tweaks to their game before full collegiate play begins in the spring. Smaller tournaments, such as the Saint Mary’s Invitational, give an opportunity to try new methods and shots.

“I feel more confident when I’m on my own on the court now. … I have a game plan,” said Kaya. “I really want to make my serves a really big weapon for myself. … There’s small details that I’ll be working on, like approach shots, some first volleys and overall improving every single shot until we get to the spring and working hard before the season.”

Coaches and players alike are waiting eagerly to find out if any of the Bears earned bids to the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships, which will be released Tuesday. Browne is hoping that Cal will be given at least one singles and one doubles slot, but there are too many variables to be sure.

“Results are always nice, but again, like I said, it’s about development and making sure we’re moving in the right direction,” Browne said.

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