Peak performance: How much better can Cal men’s tennis get?

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Perfection. The perfect game in baseball. The perfect season in football. The perfect playoff run in basketball. It’s what everyone in sports strives for, and it doesn’t get much closer to perfect than what the Cal men’s tennis team accomplished this weekend.

On Sunday, the Bears were confronted with a difficult task — defend Hellman Tennis Complex in back-to-back matches against two hungry, local teams in Sacramento State and USF — yet they made it look easy. Completing a perfect 4-0 sweep in both matches, the Bears had their best performance of the season by far, doubling their season win total in the process. Although the Hornets and the Dons aren’t the toughest competition the blue and gold will face, the feat of sweeping both teams on the same day should not be overlooked.

Playing a double-header is extremely taxing for players and coaches, both physically and mentally. As one of three seniors on the team, Bjorn Hoffmann has had experience playing under such conditions during the last few seasons, but emphasized the importance of these matches.

“Obviously, physically, you’re just playing a lot of tennis. But to stay as focused as you have to be in these matches, mentally, throughout the entire day, definitely exhausts everyone by the end of it. But … it’s definitely good to get these under our belt because it’s just reps at the end of the day and super good for us moving forward,” Hoffmann said.

To ease the load on players, the coaching staff decided it was an opportune moment to shift lineups and get more guys minutes. New doubles teams were tested and some players saw their first official game action of the spring.

“Overall, it’s great to get guys to play a little higher up in the lineup and give some guys a little bit of rest, but actually everybody played quite a bit today — even though some guys rested in the singles and rested in doubles. They all got quite a bit of tennis today,” said director of Cal men’s tennis Peter Wright.

One of the players to get rest was sophomore standout Yuta Kikuchi. Although he didn’t play singles against Sacramento State, Kikuchi made his return in the later match against USF’s Nitzan Ricklis. Ranked No. 88 nationally, Ricklis simply looked overwhelmed against Kikuchi, who surgically picked his spots and fired returns with too much pace to be returned. Putting on a clinic en route to a dominant 6-0, 6-1 victory, Kikuchi was showered with Japanese phrases of encouragement from teammates and the Cal faithful — and even had Dons’ supporters clapping by the end.

The Bears’ victories were a complete team effort, however. Out of 22 completed sets played between Sunday’s two matches, Wright’s team only dropped two of them. Furthermore, Cal led or tied in six of the eight unfinished sets. Wright believes the success of his team can be traced back to the energy they put into practice this week.

“When our guys work hard in practice like they did last week, they see the gains that can be made with a solid week of practice. This is our developmental time. This is our time to really get strong, build our muscles and get tough, and we’re really excited about it,” Wright said.

The Bears flexed said muscles Sunday, but they have their sights set on bigger and better things. Hoffmann believes what they showcased this weekend wasn’t even close to their peak performance.

“I’m really excited about this team, especially with the addition of Kent (Hunter). We didn’t lose anyone from last year. Hopefully we can do really well, and I definitely believe in us,” Hoffmann said.

After this weekend, Hoffmann certainly isn’t the only one believing.

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