There is often very little difference in skill level between the top-ranked college tennis teams in the nation. Ultimately, what separates these teams over the course of a season is whether they live up to their full potential match-in and match-out. The Cal women’s tennis team will look to demonstrate that it possesses such consistency against Colorado and Utah this weekend.
Cal is undoubtedly favored to win both of these matchups. The blue and gold enter this weekend’s contests on the heels of impressive back-to-back victories against then-No. 3 UCLA and unranked UCSB, which earned them a season-high No. 12 ranking in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association, or ITA, national rankings. Furthermore, Cal’s top three singles players Haley Giavara, Julia Rosenqvist and Valentina Ivanov each hold individual national rankings inside the top 50. Conversely, Utah and Colorado are both unranked teams, with neither roster sporting any individually-ranked singles players or doubles teams.
Yet, both the Buffs and Utes are far from unthreatening opponents. Each team holds a season win rate above 0.700, only just shy of Cal’s 0.857. Indeed, the Bears seem rightfully wary of taking to the courts in Boulder and Salt Lake City on March 5th and 7th, respectively.
“I really stress to the girls that we have to take it one match at a time,” said Cal women’s tennis head coach Amanda Augustus. “Especially when we’re playing on the road, you have to be aware that your opponents are going to be more comfortable on their home courts.”
Colorado and Utah have certainly felt comfortable playing at home so far this season, with both teams having yet to lose a single match on their own turf. In addition to overcoming the home-court confidence of both their opponents, the Bears will need to prepare for the possibility that they will play their matches indoors in the event of sub-50 degree weather or precipitation — something they have experienced less than both their opponents.
On indoor courts, the ball tends to move through the court extremely quickly due to a lack of elements, particularly wind, to slow it down. Thus, teams such as Utah and Colorado that frequently play inside generally adopt an aggressive game style. Regardless of whether the matches are ultimately played indoors or outdoors, Cal will need to withstand the attacking brand of tennis that both teams will likely rely on.
“These teams tend to hit a ball that’s usually a bit flatter than what we normally see,” Augustus said. “In doubles, they’ll probably try to attack and take the ball very early. We’re preparing for that.”
With its match against No. 2 Texas, originally scheduled for last Saturday, having been cancelled, Cal will begin the weekend’s matches after nearly two weeks of no formal competition. Even so, the Bears have made efforts to ensure that this unplanned mini-hiatus from competition doesn’t lessen the momentum they built with their wins against UCLA and UCSB.
“We still simulated a match against ourselves so that we stayed mentally in the habit of competing,” Augustus said. “Otherwise, we stuck to our normal training and the girls got ahead on their schoolwork.”
The weekend’s contests will be Cal’s first Pac-12 conference matches of the season, and are critical to the blue and gold’s efforts to hoist a Pac-12 trophy. The Bears also aim to extend their winning streak to seven, and further establish themselves as serious contenders for the NCAA championship.
Milad Shafaie covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]