Cal men’s tennis loses nail-biter against No. 20 Florida State

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After 14 sets of completed tennis and with the score tied up at 3-3, all eyes were on the No. 6 singles spot as Cal’s Mert Zincirli battled No. 20 Florida State’s Chase Wood to decide the match. Zincirli lost the close first set, 5-7, and came back to win the second, 6-3, before finally falling, along win the Bear’s chances, 2-6, in the third.

To start the match, Cal continued its success in doubles by decisively taking the doubles point after victories by Jacob Brumm with Yuta Kikuchi at No. 1 doubles, and Jack Molloy with Zincirli at No. 3 doubles. The last pairing of Paul Barretto and Can Kaya was also up in the pair’s match, but it was left unfinished after the Bears secured the point.

“The doubles point is really important because it brings momentum to the match. Our guys really came out and I thought showed a lot of composure,” said men’s tennis director Peter Wright. “We played well today, and I think our focus is on some of the things we did really well. … In doubles, we had all three of our matches well played and very positive, and in singles, it was a challenge.”

Cal’s outlook remained hopeful after the singles matches started. Sophomore Molloy fell to Lucas Poullain, 6-2, 6-2, while sophomore Brumm bested Alex Knaff, 6-3, 6-4, in the second and third singles spots, respectively.

“We’re still a very young team,” Brumm said. “It definitely feels different than last season. A lot of the young guys on our team last year that were playing at the bottom of the lineup are now at the top. … We’re now the leaders, on and off the court, of the team.”

Now leading at 2-1, things fell apart for Cal. Despite junior Bjorn Hoffmann bringing the Bears their third point from the No. 5 singles, both sophomore Barretto and freshman Kikuchi were edged out in close three-set matches. No. 1 Barretto lost, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, and No. 4 Kikuchi lost, 4-6, 6-0, 4-6.

This put all the pressure on Zincirli, a junior transfer who was playing his first match at Cal.

“It’s always difficult playing your very first match, and both Yuta and Mert — they felt it. We were in hostile territory out here in Florida, but you got to give them credit — they both played tough singles matches,” Wright said. “They played well out there.”

To start the season with such a tough road match was difficult for the team, but the Bears will have to get used to it, with scheduled travel to College Station, Chicago, and then potentially back to Orlando for playoffs.

“The travel is definitely not easy, the time zone is tough, and just the pure length of travel is tough, especially once we’re in school,” Brumm said. “Hopefully, we qualify for NCAAs, and we’re back here in May.”

Despite losing, 3-4, this match is a good sign that Cal can be competitive with a top-20 team on the road, especially considering that the next matches for the Bears are neutral-site games against No. 17 Virginia, at No. 7 UCLA and at No. 5 USC.

“Overall, for a season opener out on the road here, I’m proud of a lot of the things the guys did today,” Wright said. “We’re just going to continue to work on our fundamentals. We have to trust our shots.”

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