Choking in crunch time might be the most defining feature of Cal sports, but this weekend, Cal men’s tennis was able to pull through, upsetting No. 21 Arizona and staving off a comeback from Arizona State in the Bears’ home opener.
“It’s great to be home. Our guys played two very high-quality matches,” said men’s tennis director Peter Wright. “We’re going to do what we’ve been doing. … There’s nothing new that we’re going to do — this is how we grow as a team every year.”
After starting the season 2-5, the Bears were able to start off conference play with a solid 2-0 start in a very tough conference in which six of the nine teams are ranked.
On Friday, Cal started off on the wrong foot when the Bears faced Arizona for their fifth straight ranked match. Jacob Brumm had injured his wrist earlier in the week, and the injury was causing some difficulty in his matches. No. 11 Brumm and Yuta Kikuchi fell in the doubles point, but the other duos — No. 33 Paul Barretto and Can Kaya, along with Jack Molloy and Mert Zincirli — were able to compensate and clinch the point for the Bears.
Brumm and Kikuchi were also defeated in the top two singles spots, but Barretto and Bjorn Hoffmann were able to put Cal up 3-2 total. While Ben Draper was fighting a three-set battle on court six, Molloy closed out his match 7-6, 7-6 to send the Wildcats home.
“I actually quite like being in that situation. I guess I put myself under pressure to come through those and just not accept any excuses,” Molloy said.
The next day, the Bears returned to the courts to face the Sun Devils without Brumm. The weakened doubles team fell to Arizona State’s strong doubles, putting the Bears down 0-1 and in an uncomfortable situation. The only other time they had lost the doubles point this season was against current No. 30 Oklahoma State, and now they had to rely on their historically weaker singles. Without Brumm, Dominic Barretto stepped in to play his first match of the season.
“We really missed Jacob (Brumm) today, but again, our team rallied around what we needed to do after losing the doubles point and played a very high-quality singles match,” Wright said. “They spent less time thinking about the past and more time thinking about the present, and I think that’s one of the skills that we’ve been working on as a team.”
Cal came swinging into the singles, however, as Kikuchi, Paul Barretto, Molloy, Hoffmann and Draper all won their first sets. The second sets started well for the Bears, as many of them took leads, and Hoffmann, Molloy, Draper and Paul Barretto all broke their opponents’ serve.
This was when things started to fall apart for the Bears, as the Sun Devils started to claw their way back. Kikuchi started the second set 0-3. Hoffmann, Molloy and Draper were all tied at 5-5. Draper had an opportunity at match point up 6-5, but Arizona State’s Justin Roberts was able to force a tiebreaker. Dominic Barretto was defeated, giving the Sun Devils a 2-0 lead.
“I think naturally you get a little worried when he starts coming back. At 5-4, I was a little nervous, but at no stage did I think I would ever lose a set. … I knew that if I just stuck to my game plan and stayed focused, I would come through in the end,” Molloy said.
Eventually, the Bears were able to push through and close out their matches one by one. Hoffmann and Molloy defeated their opponents to tie up the score, and after tiebreakers — including a drawn-out 13-11 tiebreaker on court one — Draper and Kikuchi secured the win for Cal.
“Matches ebb and flow a lot, and we were ahead in some of the matches. The Arizona State guys caught up in those matches, and our guys showed great composure in not getting frustrated but taking the opportunity to be calm and move forward from where they were,” Wright said. “I’m just really proud of how our guys competed today and how we’re growing as a team — that’s my biggest takeaway.”
Cal’s next matches are scheduled for Monday at home against unranked Pacific and Saint Mary’s.
Trilok Reddy covers men’s tennis. Contact him at