Cal men’s tennis aims to shine bright in sunny Santa Barbara

Nirvana Ellaboudy/Staff

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When Peter Wright, director of Cal men’s tennis, was asked to describe this year’s team in one word, mature came to mind.

“We really have spent a lot of time growing. We are growing, and we are maturing. As the guys get older, they really start to blossom and show that experience,” Wright said.

At the UCSB Classic in Santa Barbara this weekend, Cal will get a chance to show off the growth that Wright has promised. In fact, Wright has opted to deploy some of his most seasoned veterans to represent the Bears down south.

Suiting up for Cal will be junior Thomas Wright, as well as seniors Dominic Barretto and Mert Zincirli. The trio did not take part in the ongoing ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, so they will be running on fresh legs and looking to make their presence felt in Santa Barbara.

Barretto is already familiar with the environment at UCSB, and made himself known there last year. Barretto was placed in the singles back draw at the UCSB Classic after dropping his first match. He then launched a campaign to set up a finals match with UCSB’s own Victor Krustev, but fell to the tune of 6-1, 6-1. Now, Barretto is eager for revenge.

Time has allowed the Cal senior to analyze his shortcomings and improve on his weaknesses — and the same can be said for the rest of the Bears.

“They think about things differently. They see opportunities through a different lens and that is a really important part of how we are going to attack this year, and build upon what we have done the last couple years,” explained director Wright.

For players, competitions like the UCSB Classic are important because they allow them to further polish their form going into team matches in the spring.

“We want to give each guy an opportunity to play a lot of matches and for them, that’s a similar situation where they are going to play four singles matches in two days — in 48 hours. It is just a great opportunity for them to continue to grow as players in both singles and doubles,” said Wright.

While there are many collegiate teams participating, UCSB will have a target on its back as the host team. The Gauchos have dominated on their home turf, securing consolation singles titles in back-to-back years —  and will be looking to complete a three-peat this time around.

The Bears have other plans, however, setting their sights on the singles title. For Cal, it was Can Kaya coming out victorious last year in his C singles finals defeat of Cal Poly’s Alexander Stater in a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 tally.

The selected Bears will definitely be trying to emulate their teammate’s success from last year, as they anticipate better individual results this time. After all, the mantra that has been preached to Cal’s players all offseason long has been to play like they’ve been there before — and they have.

“Last year at the NCAA Championships, we lost to a team that had four seniors on it. The team with four seniors played like a team with four seniors and we played like a team with four sophomores. This year, we have aged a little bit more and we are playing better,” Wright said.

Cal’s 2019 roster consists of two sophomores, six juniors and three seniors. With no newcomers outside of sophomore transfer Kent Hunter, these Bears have a season together under their belt, easing the transition process. While team-building and chemistry is often the primary focus of teams in the fall, Wright’s unit can shift its attention to developing on the infrastructure they established together last season.

Seeing eye to eye on goals is integral to success in tennis: both in doubles competition and the overall scheme of the season. For Cal, the goal is to continue the upward climb it began last year to bigger and better things. Regardless of the results, more game experience in Santa Barbara will go a long way to meeting this cause.

At the end of the day, it is all we can hope for as individuals: to improve ourselves as we grow. This year,  the Bears are built to do just that, and will look to make it a reality starting at UCSB.

Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].