Cal men’s tennis fizzles against No. 6 Baylor, Arizona State

Tennis player is about to strike the ball.
Stephanie Li /Staff

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Cal men’s tennis entered the weekend hoping to continue its hot streak and defend its title from last year, but instead, after only one win, the Bears got shut out — and then lost again to an unranked team to close out its tournament.

At the BNP Paribas Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge presented by Oracle, Cal was hoping for a repeat of the run it made last year to capture the title. As the four seed, Cal faced Purdue in the first round; the No. 31 Bears made quick work of the unranked Boilermakers, sweeping them 4-0 on the first day and not losing a single set in the process.

After this, it seemed the only thing in their way of clinching the win was No. 6 Baylor in the semifinals. The two teams in the other half of the bracket were No. 16 USC and Arizona State, two teams that Cal had beaten previously.

Unfortunately for Cal, its semifinal opponent was instead one of the top teams in the country. Baylor had an impressive 14-2 record that included six ranked wins in addition to having the second-best doubles team in the country and three ranked singles players.

Adding to the difficulty of the match was still-injured Jacob Brumm. The last time he played singles was March 8 against Arizona, and he sat out against Arizona State, Pacific and Saint Mary’s. He returned against Purdue for the doubles point to play with his partner Yuta Kikuchi but remained out of the singles lineup. Brumm would maintain this pattern against Baylor, leaving Cal with weakened singles.

“We were bringing him along gently, and he got progressively better as the weekend went on,” said men’s tennis director Peter Wright.

Nothing went Cal’s way Saturday, as Baylor held the Bears scoreless for the 4-0 victory. No. 11 Brumm and Kikuchi fell to No. 2 Sven Lah and Jimmy Bendeck, 6-2, after No. 33 Paul Barretto and Can Kaya had already lost 6-2, giving Baylor the doubles point and an early lead. In singles, it was more of the same — Jack Molloy, Bjorn Hoffmann and Dominic Barretto all fell in straight sets to give Baylor a ticket to the finals. Ben Draper, Kikuchi and Paul Barretto had all split sets, but their matches were left unfinished.

“Saturday against Baylor we played well. I think we had some opportunities. We were ahead in every singles match at one point in the day,” Wright said.

The Bears still had the chance to claim third place by beating Arizona State for the second week in a row, but the Sun Devils were able to get their revenge on the Bears, even with the full return of Brumm. In a complete reversal from the last match, Cal took the doubles point after wins from Brumm and Kikuchi, along with Kaya and Paul Barretto, but was not able to deliver with its singles.

Both teams had modified lineups that meant no direct rematches were played, which turned out to be exactly what Arizona State needed. Brumm fell on court three to even up the score at 1-1, but wins from Hoffmann and Draper were able to push Cal to the brink of victory. The Bears, however, were never able to close out any of the remaining matches. Molloy fought a close match that went right down to a tiebreaker in the third set but eventually fell 0-6, 6-4, 7-5 (5). Kikuchi and Paul Barretto dropped soon after in their own third sets to seal Cal’s 3-4 loss.

“Arizona State — they fought hard, they came back. I thought we were off a to a good start in that match, and they came back and battled back to win it. Clearly, that was one that we’re probably thinking about the most today,” Wright said. “I think playing the third match in three days down in Indian Wells, it was different because we usually don’t play three matches in a row back to back to back.”

This tournament showcased Cal’s inconsistency this season. The loss against Arizona State was the team’s first loss against an unranked team, and, just two weeks apart, the doubles and singles performances seemed to completely switch from the Bears’ last matchup with the Sun Devils.

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