Cal men’s tennis upsets No. 5 USC, comes up short against No. 7 UCLA

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Before this weekend, the last time Cal men’s tennis beat USC in a regular-season match, George W. Bush was only two years into his second term, and Pluto was still a planet. The 12-year drought ended this past Saturday as Jack Molloy clinched the final point to complete the Bears’ 4-3 upset over No. 5 USC.

“Today, we actually went out and earned it. We had to play hard against a very good USC team,” said men’s tennis director Peter Wright. “It was truly a team effort today. It was outstanding performances across the board.”

The win comes on the heels of a close 4-2 loss at No. 7 UCLA on Friday. This loss followed the same formula that appeared in previous defeats: Win the doubles point only to be defeated in four close and drawn-out singles matches.

“We played both matches I thought very well — we won the doubles point in both of them, and we’ve been getting progressively better with each match now. We were disappointed with the outcome against UCLA yesterday. So, going into the match today against USC, we felt that if we continued to do the things we’d been doing, positive things would happen,” Wright said.

At UCLA, it was worse than normal, with the No. 8 pairing of Jacob Brumm and Yuta Kikuchi falling to UCLA 0-6 to give the Bears a scare in the doubles point. The other ranked duo of No. 17 Paul Barretto and Can Kaya, along with Molloy and Mert Zincirli, grabbed the point for Cal. In singles, the Bears were routed, with Barretto, Brumm and Ben Draper losing three matches in straight sets and Molloy being defeated 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to put the nail in the coffin for Cal. Only Bjorn Hoffmann was able to win a match for the Bears and continue his undefeated singles streak.

“It was a tight loss; it was a difficult one to take, and some of us had some real tough bang-battles out there,” Molloy said. “We’ve all got good resilience, and I think today we all came out big, and everyone came out slapping today right from the word go, and that’s what propelled us to victory.”

The next day, Cal was feeling the pressure from USC with an uncharacteristically close doubles point that Barretto and Kaya eventually clinched in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (5).

“The doubles point really today was key,” Wright said. “Our guys stepped up. Paul and Can at No. 2 clinched it for us in a really exciting point.”

Despite changing the lineup to put Brumm at one, Barretto at two, Kikuchi at three and Molloy at four, it looked like more of the same for Cal as Hoffmann, Brumm and Barretto all lost in straight sets. As the other matches went to three sets, however, Draper upset No. 50 Tanner Smith, and Kikuchi beat Jack Jaede to tie up the score at 3-3. Now, the entire match depended on Molloy against Riley Smith at No. 4.

“I’ve been in that situation quite a few times, and naturally, you look up at the scoreboard a little bit, and I knew from fairly early on that I was going to be one of the matches we had to win,” Molloy said.

After three sets involving two tiebreakers, Molloy sealed the Bears’ victory 7-6 (3), 6-7 (6), 6-3. This was Cal’s first regular-season win against USC since April 7, 2006.

“To beat USC, who are at No. 5 in the country, on their home courts is a huge win. For us as a team and also for me individually, I hope to build on the momentum today and use that in our next few matches,” Molloy said. “We’re definitely getting better match by match.”

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