Cancellations and postponements have been recurring themes for Cal men’s tennis this season. Five scheduled matches have come and gone without a single minute of competitive tennis for the Bears, the latest being a match Monday against No. 28 Pepperdine. Now, the Bears are slated to play a duo of tough opponents in No. 17 Arizona and No. 23 Arizona State in back-to-back matches Friday and Saturday. But whether or not these matches end up taking place remains to be seen.
The blue and gold will host both the Wildcats and the Sun Devils at the Hellman Tennis Complex, which could help Cal’s chances of seeing playing time. However, with more than a two-month-long hibernation from competitive play, it is questionable whether the Bears can muster up a fight against these top-ranked Arizona schools. If these two matches do end up proceeding as planned, it will pose a demanding test for a Cal squad looking to find its footing.
Arizona sports a formidable 17-4 record and is coming off back-to-back wins against No. 16 USC and No. 36 UCLA, the latter of whom swept the Bears in late January during the ITA Kickoff weekend. Furthermore, the Wildcats’ four losses have all come at the hands of ranked opponents, meaning Arizona is unblemished thus far against unranked opponents like Cal.
Alongside team success, the Wildcats boast a top-tier 1-2 punch in No. 15 Gustaf Strom and No. 63 Jonas Ziverts. This pair of Swedes has led Arizona in singles play, with Strom, a freshman, boasting an undefeated 14-0 record and Ziverts, a junior, holding a record of 8-6 this season. Strom, who was crowned the top junior tennis player in Sweden, started out at the third singles spot in the rotation but has worked his way up to the second spot in recent matches. Despite facing intense competition, including USC’s No. 28 Riley Smith, Strom has yet to suffer a single singles loss. Whichever Bear faces him will have their paws full.
After the Wildcats, the road does not get much easier. Arizona State enters Berkeley with a 13-5 record. While the Sun Devils dropped their last two games against the Trojans and the Bruins, they, like the Wildcats, rarely lose to unranked opponents. Arizona State and Cal may share the same 1-1 record against common opponents but the outcomes tell two very different stories — the Sun Devils swept UNLV 7-0 and barely fell to UCLA 3-4, while the Bears edged the Rebels 4-3 and were played off the court by the Bruins to the tune of 0-4.
Individually, Arizona State’s arsenal also includes ranked players who can go toe-to-toe with the Bears’ top competitors. Senior Nathan Ponwith (12-5) is ranked No. 92 in the nation, while fellow veteran Tim Ruehl (6-4) comes in at No. 122. Ruehl and senior Andrea Bolla also hold down the No. 69 spot on the doubles side.
With all of the off-court complications surrounding Cal’s season, whether or not these matches take place as scheduled remains in limbo. It suffices to say that the blue and gold will not be eased back into competitive play. If all goes as planned, though, the Bears should look forward to facing several Pac-12 teams in the coming weeks before heading to the Pac-12 championships later this month. But only time will tell if Cal can even get back on the court, let alone play to its preseason expectations.
Alex Wang covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].