Coast to coast: Cal men’s tennis looks to finish fall season strong across the country

Nirvana Ellaboudy/Staff

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Fall represents the ending of one thing and the transition into another, a chance for nature’s beauty to have one last moment in the sun before it lets everything go. As the leaves blow away, there is always the promise of next year and the knowledge that they will bloom again in the spring.

Cal men’s tennis is nearing this crossroads, as it will conclude its fall season this coming weekend, entering an offseason period until next semester.

At the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships in Newport Beach, from Nov. 6-10, and the Chowder Fest in Cambridge, from Nov. 8-10, the Bears hope to cap an already-impressive fall with more impressive performances.

The National Fall Championships is the pinnacle of individual collegiate tennis outside of the NCAA Championships that happen in May. Cal will be sending three players to Newport Beach, as sophomore Yuta Kikuchi will be the lone singles representative while the tandem of junior Ben Draper and senior Bjorn Hoffmann, who was born in Newport Beach, will compete in the doubles draw.

“It’s a recognition of how our guys have been playing this fall. This is yet another opportunity for them to develop their games and to learn and play against the best competition out there. No matter how we do, whether we win the tournament or whatever we do, for me is a positive because we look at the team events and matches in the spring as really the focus of our energy,” said Peter Wright, director of Cal men’s tennis.

While neither of this weekend’s tournaments will have seeding implications for the team come spring, they represent a chance for players to continue to push personal goals. Nonetheless, every bit of game experience will help the team’s cause.

“We are a group of individuals playing a team sport, so how each individual performs and how each individual doubles team performs certainly will help us in our team matches in the spring,” Wright said.

Kikuchi will be competing among a pool of 64 competitors, while Draper and Hoffmann will have 31 other doubles teams standing in front of their title dreams. After being named 2018’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Kikuchi is looking to add to his resume. Draper and Hoffmann, while both upperclassmen, began their new partnership together at the ITA Regional Championships last week, so it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their early success against even tougher opponents.

Kikuchi will open up play against Tulane’s Ewan Moore, who is ranked No. 36 nationally. On the doubles side, Draper and Hoffmann will begin their journey versus Notre Dame’s duo of Richard Ciamarra and Tristan McCormick.

While the aforementioned three will be soaking up the sun in Southern California, eight other Bears will have to bear the elements in Cambridge. At the Chowder Fest, Cal will compete against the host Harvard and a handful of other collegiate teams.

“That was our deal. If you get into the fall national championships, then you’re going to be playing there. If you don’t get in, you’re still going to be playing in a tournament in the Chowder Fest at Harvard. There are no losers this coming weekend. I think everybody is going to have a great experience and great opportunities to compete against some wonderful players from around the country,” Wright said.

Wright isn’t overlooking the importance of finishing the season strong, but he also realizes how hard his players have played to this point.

“One of the great things about college tennis is that we’ve been competing and playing hard for the last six or seven weeks and now we’ll finish off this weekend with some stiff competition, and then we’ll have a break,” Wright said. “You need a break. You have to have an offseason, a time where you can train and practice at a lower level for a little while to focus on academics and getting your health together. It’s a very tough and grueling — both physically and mentally — season, so this break is good for them to get prepared for that.”

After hibernating through the winter, the Bears will awaken and attack yet another inspiring opportunity. But this time, it won’t just be a trip across the country.

“It’s a training trip and an opportunity to be at the Australian Open before school starts, so we’re not going to miss any school, but it’ll be a great opportunity for us to compete in Australia and be at the Australian Open, to be with the best players in the world, literally the best players in the world,” Wright said.

Wright’s members certainly aspire to be the best players in the world someday, but before they can do that, they must prove that they’re the best players in the country. This weekend presents a chance to put the country on notice come spring.

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