Cal is famous for its “Bear Territory” chant, and this past weekend, the Cal men’s tennis team embodied it — claiming victories across the country. Over the weekend, the Bears participated in two tournaments: the Milwaukee Tennis Classic and the annual Battle of the Bay in San Francisco.
At the Western Racquet Club in Milwaukee, upperclassmen Jack Molloy, Paul Barretto, Can Kaya and Bjorn Hoffmann took to the court for Cal. At the California Tennis Club in San Francisco, it was sophomore Yuta Kikuchi, ranked 75th, along with fellow sophomore Kent Hunter — as well as seniors Mert Zincirli and Dominic Barretto suiting up for the Bears.
The Bears have history in Milwaukee. Last year, Paul Barretto and Can Kaya came out as champions in tandem, making a return to Milwaukee this season all the more special.
As the top-seeded doubles team in the tournament, the duo earned a first round bye and did not play until the round of 16. They found early success again, as Barretto and Kaya beat Navy and VCU teams to easily reach the semifinals.
However, the pair ranked 58th would fall to 4th-seeded N.C. State’s Tadas Babelis and Yannai Barkai, 9-8(7), in a hard-fought semifinals match. With the scores level at 8-8, the game came down to a tiebreaker which the Bears lost, ending their dreams of back-to-back titles. Instead, it would be the Wolfpack duo who ended up winning the Milwaukee Tennis Classic.
The doubles pair of Molloy and Hoffmann also went to work for Cal, battling through to the quarterfinals. Cal’s duo met the No. 15 Princeton team of Ryan Seggerman and Payton Holden, and ultimately fell to the tune of 8-4. While this ended the Cal doubles run at the Western Racquet Club, it was clear that the team was eager to improve and use their experiences as a building block for the future.
In terms of singles, Paul Barretto and Molloy carried the load for the Bears. After both Hoffmann and Kaya were eliminated from singles play early Friday, the juniors showed out against singles players from a range of schools — including VCU, Illinois, Marquette, Wisconsin and USC.
In the quarterfinals, the fourth-seeded Molloy fought but ultimately lost a tough three-set match against Richard Ciamarra of Notre Dame, who went on to place second overall at the tournament. Paul Barretto, the fifth seed, also dropped in this round to UNLV’s Alex Kobelt.
Just across the bay in San Francisco, reigning Pac-12 Men’s Tennis Freshman of the Year, Yuta Kikuchi, won his first two matches before falling late Saturday night to Michigan’s Ondrej Styler in the quarterfinals. The Japanese sophomore has shown great potential in his Cal career to this point, and fans should be excited to see his speed and power this season.
Besides Kikuchi, Kent Hunter faced stiff competition from Brandon Holt of USC, losing in two sets. Holt, who was named 2018-19 Pac-12 Singles Player of the Year, is ranked No. 5 in the nation.
The Bears’ attack was stifled across the board in singles competition, with Dominic Barretto falling in the qualifying round and Mert Zincirli slipping in the round of 32 after advancing through qualifying.
That wasn’t the end of the road for Cal, however, as the Bears saw more action in the doubles competition. Barretto and Zincirli teamed up to take down USF’s Mitchell Johnson and Phuc Huynh, only to lose to another USF duo in the round of 16. Sophomores Kikuchi and Hunter joined forces against a UCSB pair, but fell short in the first round, 8-3.
Playing in tournaments to start the season is all about gaining experience. Even after being eliminated, some players in the Battle of the Bay saw extra work in consolation singles and doubles matches. The extra game action will surely help the players further sharpen their skills and continue to develop mental toughness, traits necessary in a sport as cerebral as tennis.
Looking ahead, although they did not place at either tournament, the Bears should be excited by their promising play this weekend. It is a long season, but the flashes that Cal showed may be representative of more to come.
Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].