In tennis, “ace” is used to denote a successful serve that the opponent cannot return. In academia, “ace” means successfully passing an exam. At UC Berkeley, where academics top everything, the director of men’s tennis, Peter Wright, opted for the latter when describing the team’s mindset.
“These are like individual exams for each guy, so some guys did well in Tulsa and some guys didn’t do as well as they wanted to in Tulsa. For us, going into Stanford, everyone wants to do well on the exam. They’ve all been studying and practicing and working hard to get there,” Wright said.
At the ITA Northwest Regional Championships at Stanford from Friday through Tuesday, Cal will attempt to ace the exam and make good on Wright’s words. Competing against teams ranging from central California to as far north as Oregon and Washington, the Bears are looking to make a splash as the fall season rounds down.
Although official draws have yet to be released, Cal will be in full force, opting to send all its members up north. According to precedent, the Bears will be led in singles by sophomore Yuta Kikuchi, while doubles will be spearheaded by the tandem of Kikuchi and junior Jacob Brumm.
The rest remains unclear, however. The fall season usually brings change, and Wright will be testing out guys in different spots to figure out the team’s identity as they prepare for the spring regular season.
“Doubles is an art. Doubles teams is about chemistry, and sometimes it is really obvious which guys should be playing together, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s not two guys who play the same way but it’s two guys who play very differently from each other to get that to mesh and gel well together. Being a good doubles player, the way we talk about it, is being a good doubles partner. It doesn’t matter who you play with, but you develop a good skill set that is going to make you a valuable partner,” Wright said.
With a long season ahead of them, Cal is emphasizing the next-man-up mentality. As injuries and illnesses are commonplace for teams, having everyone ready goes a long way toward meeting season goals.
“We have a history of guys stepping up. This is going to be that season where we try to get a lot of guys a lot of different reps, so some matches you’ll see some different lineups. We’ve had a lot of guys win this tournament in the past, so that’s one thing that we are building towards and if I were to predict, I’d love to see four of our Cal guys in the semifinals and finals of this thing,” Wright said.
The Bears certainly stepped up to the challenge at last year’s ITA Regional in Seattle.
The duo of Kikuchi and Brumm were seeded No. 2 in the bracket and battled all the way into the round of 16. Juniors Jack Molloy and Ben Draper combined to reach the round of 16, while seniors Nic Barretto and Mert Zincirli fell in the round of 32 after a victory in their first match. The pair of juniors Paul Barretto and Can Kaya went the furthest, reaching the semifinals while upsetting a higher-seeded tandem from Stanford along the way.
It wasn’t just doubles in which Cal found success, however. In the main singles competition, 10 of the 128 total participants were Bears. Kikuchi led the charge, getting as far as the semifinals before dropping 6-4, 3-6, 3-6 to Oregon’s Emmanuel Coste. The Ducks’ then-sophomore would go on to be crowned champion.
Whether competing in singles or doubles, Kikuchi’s determination is unphased.
“There are some differences in singles and doubles because it is kind of like they are completely different sports. I think I always focus on how I can be a better player, so there is no difference in attitude, but there are some differences for techniques,” Kikuchi said.
Everyone’s eyes will be on the sophomore to lead Cal this weekend. But Kikuchi already has his eyes set on something greater.
“I think we are all aiming to be national champions. This regional is big for us, but not the goal for us. Everybody thinks and hopes, but I hope maybe this is our process and our goal should be national titles,” Kikuchi said.
The Bears’ journey begins with the first exam at Stanford this Friday. It’s time to see if the studying paid off.
Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].