Cal men’s tennis opens conference play against Arizona schools

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Cal men’s tennis is set to extend its streak of playing ranked teams — and potentially its two-match losing streak. The Bears start conference play this Friday as they face off against No. 21 Arizona in Berkeley. It will be the fifth-ranked team they will play in a row and potentially their fourth loss in that period.

The Bears are also scheduled to play unranked Arizona State on Saturday to complete the first two of their eight conference matches. These will be the first home matches Cal has played all season after scheduled contests with Saint Mary’s and Pacific were rained out Tuesday. The Bears rescheduled those matches for March 11 in Berkeley.

Unfortunately for Cal and Arizona State, there is a 90 percent chance of rain for Saturday. It is predicted to rain periodically all day, and that match is scheduled for 2 p.m. If the match is canceled or postponed, the Bears will lose out on a rare opportunity to score a win against an unranked Pac-12 foe, as the only other currently unranked team Cal will face in conference play is Washington on April 19.

This week, after the loss to Oklahoma State, Cal fell off the national rankings to become only the third unranked Pac-12 team. The Bears also fell to 2-5 on the season, with their only wins coming against Western Michigan and at now-No. 19 USC.

In the most recent rankings, the Cal duo of Yuta Kikuchi and Jacob Brumm rose two spots to No. 11, and the pairing of Paul Barretto and Can Kaya fell two spots to No. 33, while teammates Jack Molloy and Mert Zincirli dropped off the poll after being ranked two weeks ago.

The Wildcats field no ranked doubles teams, but the Sun Devils boast three top-50 duos, so the Bears will have their work cut out. Meanwhile, Arizona State’s No. 74 Nathan Ponwith is the only ranked singles player that will be in Berkeley this weekend.

Arizona is 11-1 heading into this weekend, with its only loss coming against 10th-ranked Mississippi State. The team has wins over No. 32 Texas Tech and No. 40 Ole Miss but has only played those three ranked teams.

Arizona State has played much better teams, including losses against No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Wake Forest but accordingly features just a 4-5 record this season.

Both Cal and Arizona State have losses to Oklahoma State, with Cal dropping the match 2-4 and Arizona State losing 3-4, so the teams seem to be evenly matched on paper. Most notably, the traditionally strong doubles from the Bears lost to Oklahoma State’s doubles, while Arizona State claimed the doubles point convincingly, 6-2 and 6-0.
This weekend is among the best chances for the Bears to get a conference win or two before they host highly ranked teams in the next few weeks. That being said, these matches are hardly easy wins — Cal is not favored in either of them — and to win, Cal will have to play like the team that fans got a glimpse of at USC.

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