Yuta Kikuchi and Jacob Brumm are not scared of the spotlight. If anything, they are chomping at the bit to return to it, hoping to finish off what they started last year.
At the ITA All-American Championships last season, the Cal duo shocked the tennis world by taking down Mississippi State’s pair Strahinja Rakic and Nuno Borges, then ranked No. 1 in the nation. After this 3-set quarterfinals victory, Kikuchi and Brumm advanced to the quarterfinals, where they were eliminated by a doubles team from Ohio State University. This year, the Bears are hungry for revenge and will aspire to be the last team standing.
In Tulsa, starting this Saturday, the motivated Cal squad will have a chance to push to greater heights at the 2019 ITA All-American. The tournament will last from Oct. 5 until Oct. 13, but how long the Bears stay in Oklahoma will depend on how long they can stay afloat among their competition.
The competition will be stiff, with collegiate teams from across the country participating in the tournament. As the No. 18 team in the nation, Cal shows great promise and has accumulated 39.370 points this season. Points are accumulated based on previous tournament results and determine the team’s national seeding. Pac-12 rivals Stanford, UCLA and USC are all ranked above Cal nationally, so the Bears are surely looking for a strong performance in Tulsa to increase their ranking.
Cal will be represented in Tulsa by seven players: Kikuchi, Brumm, Paul Barretto, Can Kaya, Jack Molloy, Bjorn Hoffmann and Kent Hunter. Each player brings a unique skill set to the table, and their diverse playing styles will be on display in both the singles and doubles draws.
In the singles bracket, Kikuchi has already been selected to participate in the main draw that begins with the round of 64. Kaya, Hoffmann and Hunter will begin in the pre-qualifying round with a whopping 256 players, while Brumm, Barretto and Molloy will make their entrance once the competition has been cut down to 128 players.
The six Bears will attempt to claw their way into that main draw and join Kikuchi, who is currently ranked No. 75 among all collegiate singles competitors. Despite being only a sophomore, Kikuchi has established himself as Cal’s top singles option. All eyes are on him to lead the Bears’ charge forward.
On the doubles side, Kikuchi will again combine forces with Brumm to compete in the main draw. Battling 31 other teams, Cal’s top doubles duo will be eager to return to the quarterfinals. It is clear from their intensity at practices and previous tournaments this fall, however, that the pair sees that round as their floor. The Bears are also hopeful that Barretto and Kaya, Cal’s only other doubles team at the tournament, will advance past the 64-team qualifying round to join their teammates.
The importance of game experience in tournaments cannot be understated.
Competitions such as this one are seen as opportunities to figure out rotations and doubles pairings before individual matches and conference play begin in the spring. For players, they provide a venue to sharpen their skills and determine opponent tendencies while competing against many who they are likely to face again later in the year.
It should be noted that deep runs at the ITA All-American Championships garner potential berths to the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships. Considered by some to be the largest of the fall tournaments, Cal has its sights set on competing at the National Fall Championships, and good performances this week could ensure a spot in that competition.
At the very least, the Bears need trips to the singles quarterfinals or doubles semifinals to earn a seeding in the Fall Championships.
As with everything at UC Berkeley, expectations for the team both in this tournament and during this season are high. The Bears boast some impressive talent. In 2017, the freshman class that brought in Brumm, Barretto and Molloy was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Now that the aforementioned three are juniors, transitions have been made, and the training wheels are off. Their potential is sky-high, and coaches are expecting them to step up.
The ITA All-American Championships provides them the perfect place to do so.
Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].