Cal men’s tennis improves to 6-5, attempts title defense this weekend

Stephanie Li/Staff

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In a dramatic turnaround for Cal men’s tennis, the team beat Pacific and Saint Mary’s to improve to 6-5 from 2-5 a mere three days prior. After toppling both Arizona schools Friday and Saturday, the Bears swept both the Tigers 4-0 and the Gaels 7-0 on Monday in a pair of home nonconference matches that had been rescheduled from earlier this month.

“We’re pushing these guys — we’re testing ourselves every time out, and I think that’s a testament to really how we’re trying to improve and grow as a team,” said men’s tennis director Peter Wright. “We’ve always been a confident team. … I don’t think we ever lost our confidence.”

Both of these matches were played without injured sophomore Jacob Brumm, who usually started at first doubles with partner Yuta Kikuchi and was also consistently featured in the singles lineup. Against Pacific, his doubles spot next to Kikuchi was replaced by Ben Draper, while Mert Zincirli replaced Brumm in singles. Against Saint Mary’s, however, the team switched it up and put the pairing of Dominic Barretto and Bjorn Hoffmann in the doubles lineup, while Barretto stepped in for singles.

“That’s always tough. Jacob is always a really big part of our team, and not having him in the doubles lineup is huge,” said sophomore Jack Molloy. “Not having him was a big mental blow.”

Regardless, the Bears didn’t lose a single set the whole day en route to sweeping both matches against the unranked opponents. This, in addition to the wins against Arizona and Arizona State last week, pushed Cal into the polls, appearing at No. 31 this week — the highest the team has been all season.

“I purposely gave us a difficult schedule starting out the year, and that’s because we really thrive on competitive matches,” Wright said. “The quality of the tennis is slightly better, but the quality of how we play emotionally, how we handle our emotions is light years ahead. That’s where we’ve made tremendous progress, and that’s why this team is going to be successful as we continue to go through this season and for the years to come.”

This upcoming weekend, Cal will face three more opponents as it travels to the BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge presented by Oracle, an eight-team tournament played in Indian Wells, California. The site of the tournament is also the home of the Indian Wells Masters, a pro tournament that annually features tennis royalty.

“This is one of the best collegiate events in the country. The teams who are there are playing at the site of the BNP Open; they get players’ credentials to be players onsite; they eat lunch with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams in the players’ enclosure. They are part of one of the biggest tournaments in the world,” Wright said. “One of our players, in the past, warmed Novak Djokovic up for his match in the finals. Experiences like that are just absolutely the most memorable experiences some of these kids will have in their collegiate tennis careers.”

The Bears are seeded fourth for the tournament, with No. 6 Baylor, No 13. Michigan and No. 16 USC rounding out the top four seeds. The Bears are scheduled to take on the unranked Boilermakers on Friday at 2 p.m., making it the third year in a row that Cal has faced Purdue in the opening round and potentially the third straight win.

The Bears are also defending champs after beating Purdue, Baylor and Arizona State last year to take the title.

“In order to win a tournament like that … we played well, we had good senior leadership from Billy Griffith and J.T. Nishimura — and then we had this incredible freshman class of guys come in. I think it was a fantastic experience for us to win the tournament last year,” Wright said. “Coming back as the defending champs this year, I don’t see any extra pressure because we love to play there.”

This year, the winner of Cal’s first match will face the winner of Baylor vs. Idaho, while the losers will also take part in a consolation battle. Purdue is only 5-5 this season, with a 0-7 loss to Baylor and no ranked wins, and is also without any ranked singles players or doubles teams. If the Bears win the first match, it will be one of the last opportunities to face quality ranked teams outside of Pac-12 matches, but first, they have to complete the threepeat against the Boilermakers.

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