Cal men’s tennis closes season of surging doubles, faltering singles

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“With one year of experience, the Bears got better,” sounds like the most obvious statement possible. Unless you are a quarterback for Cal, chances are that you as a player improved through an entire year of practices and play and will come into the new season with better standing.

A year of experience, however, takes on a whole new meaning for the Cal men’s tennis team, as it started the season with only one freshman player and 10 veterans, seven of whom were freshmen last year.

“Last year the dynamic was a little bit different — we had two seniors who were well-established. They played No.1 and 2 singles and No. 1 doubles,” said Cal men’s tennis director Peter Wright. “This year we still have youth on our side, but many of our guys, almost all of our guys, have seen a college match and played in one.”

This incredibly young team, with only three juniors and no seniors, had a lot to prove coming into the fall season. It had to show that it could compete at the highest level without last year’s stars Billy Griffith and J.T. Nishimura. The players also had to utilize the skills they learned during last year’s season in now-familiar tournaments and hopefully conjure up some results.

The Bears started the fall season strong at the Silverado Collegiate Invitational, where the Cal team finished in the top spot. The Bears went 16-2 overall in their matches, featuring undefeated performances from sophomores Jackson Suh and Bjorn Hoffman.

Later that week, the first season rankings were released by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. Jacob Brumm and Jack Molloy were individually placed at No. 102 and No. 113, respectively, while the doubles team of Can Kaya and Mert Zincirli grabbed the No. 59 spot.

The rest of the season saw consistently outstanding performances in doubles but not as many remarkable singles results, which may be problematic in the spring. During conference and full team play, three doubles matches award a single point, and the remaining six are decided by singles.

“Singles is certainly a big, big part of a college tennis match,” Wright said. “I think our lack of success at the national level this fall is a little bit of a reflection of the youth of our team. Having said that, I would say our depth of our play is very high and higher than many teams around the country.”

Of course, the Bears have had some success in singles. Kaya won the C-flight singles title at the UCSB Classic, and Kikuchi reached the semifinals of the ITA Northwest Regionals. In the spring, however, if the Bears are able to bring the level of success of singles up to that of doubles, Cal is set to have a truly dominant season.

The Bears had huge showings in doubles this fall. Kaya and Paul Barretto won the Milwaukee Tennis Classic. At the Aggie Invitational, Dominic Barretto and Mert Zincirli clinched a title of their own.

The most surprising doubles success this season was the first outing of the unranked duo Yuta Kikuchi and Jacob Brumm, when they upset three top-30 teams at the ITA All-American and ITA National Fall Championship tournaments.

“I am happy with where our doubles play has taken us this fall,” Wright said. “It’s not lost on a lot of people that the doubles point being the first point of the match is actually a very important point in terms of how a match is decided.”

Released earlier this week, the second round of ITA individual rankings mirrored the troubles that face the Bears. Jack Molloy and Jacob Brumm fell out of the singles rankings, but Paul Barretto managed to snag No. 98. On the doubles side, Brumm and Kikuchi were ranked at No. 14, while Paul Barretto and Kaya snatched the No. 18 slot.

“Our guys in doubles have done an outstanding job this fall,” Wright said. “Having two very well-established doubles teams certainly bodes well for the team in the overall.”

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