Cal men’s tennis sweeps nonconference games, struggles in Pac-12

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No. 40 Cal men’s tennis didn’t have much rest during spring break, as the Bears played two matches each weekend at home. The Bears swept the nonconference matches against Nevada and Saint Mary’s but lost both Pac-12 contests against No. 12 USC and No. 19 UCLA.

“This team is getting stronger. We played two good-quality matches and obviously disappointed with the results, but a lot of very high-quality tennis played this weekend,” said men’s tennis director Peter Wright. “Could we have done better? I think we could have, but I do think this team is on the right pathway to improving and being better by the end of the season.”

On Sunday, March 24, Cal was shorthanded coming into the matches against Nevada and Saint Mary’s, with both Jacob Brumm and Yuta Kikuchi out. Nevertheless, the Bears stepped up and defeated both teams 4-0 with a modified lineup.

Against Nevada, Dominic Barretto and Bjorn Hoffmann stepped into the third doubles spot, and Ben Draper and Thomas Wright did the same against Saint Mary’s. In both matches, Mert Zincirli and Barretto rounded out the singles lineup in place of Kikuchi and Brumm.

Brumm missed all four games last week after his previous wrist injury flared up again, and he was listed as “day-to-day” as of Saturday. Kikuchi was rested for the first two matches and played in the latter two.

“With Jacob out, we’ve had to pick some new doubles guys in there, and we’ve done well. We didn’t win the doubles points, we still have a few things we have to iron out, but certainly without Jacob in the lineup we’ve had to make a few adjustments,” Wright said.

On Friday, Cal faced a home rematch against USC. The Bears’ weakened doubles teams were swept by the Trojans to give USC the 1-0 lead. In singles, Jack Molloy was defeated first, but Paul Barretto and Draper were able to claim points to even up the score at 2-2. Unfortunately for the Bears, who won the nonconference match earlier in the season, the Trojans were able to close out the last two points and take the 4-2 victory.

The next day, Cal again had to play a top-20 team in UCLA. Once again, the Bears’ shorthanded doubles lineup lost to the Bruins’ pairings. Singles started out equally grim, with Cal winning only two of six first sets and Paul Barretto falling quickly. But things started to look up for Cal as Hoffmann and Zincirli won their second sets, Molloy fought to a tiebreaker in the second, and Draper won his match to put the Bears on the board.

Kikuchi on court one also forced his opponent to commit multiple code violations, resulting in two penalties. After losing the first set to Kikuchi and starting down in the second, Max Cressy hit a ball out of the stadium during downtime in between points and was assessed a one-point penalty by the judge. Later, his frustration peaked as he slammed a ball through a fence toward spectators and was given a one-game penalty.

Despite Kikuchi taking a 5-1 lead in the second set, Cressy was able to come back and take the set after a tiebreaker. Molloy also lost his tiebreaker to put the Bruins up 3-1. As the third sets progressed, Hoffmann was able to close his match out for Cal, but Cressy was able to complete his comeback and defeat Kikuchi with a 6-1 third set and shatter the Bears’ hopes.

“When you’re playing a guy like Max Cressy, he’s a world-class player. He just started to really play well. It was a challenge for Yuta, and things just started to roll his way, and he did a great job coming back and winning that match,” Wright said.

These two losses put Cal’s conference record at 2-2 with only four more conference matches before the Pac-12 Championships.

“We really have to be ready as we play our last home match. It’s going to be Stanford on April 13 — that’s a big one for us, but in the Pac-12, everything’s on the table, and everybody’s bringing all they got,” Wright said.

 

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