In collegiate tennis, the first tournament of the season can be compared to the first day of high school. Similarly to how high schoolers anxiously observe their peers and how much they’ve changed over summer break, the fall season is a chance for college tennis players to show off how much their skills have improved in the offseason and prove themselves as the best players in the country.
The Cal men’s tennis team left no time to waste in making their presence known on the proverbial campus of collegiate tennis, earning a doubles title and performing strongly in singles play at the Battle in the Bay Classic last week.
The Bears’ standout performance in singles came from the hard work of senior Philip Hjorth, who earned his way into the tournament after a comfortable win over San Diego’s Will Davies in the qualifying event.
Hjorth strung together a trio of gutsy wins after qualifying in order to put himself into the semifinals of the event. Notably, the Dane won consecutive 3-set decisions over Arizona’s top-seeded Jonas Eriksson Ziverts and Oklahoma’s Baptiste Anselmo. Ultimately, Hjorth would fall to USC’s 107th-ranked Bradley Frye in yet another 3-set thriller in the semifinals.
Hjorth’s semifinal appearance marked his best performance at the Battle in the Bay to date, after his run to the quarterfinals as a sophomore while playing at University of the Pacific. Hjorth’s outstanding play at the tournament indicates more success to come.
In other noteworthy singles play, fourth-seeded Yuta Kikuchi won his opening match over Texas’s Evin McDonald before falling to Pepperdine’s Tim Zeitvogel in a tight 2-set contest. Meanwhile, freshman Carl Emil Overbeck fell to Oklahoma’s 46th-ranked Mason Beiler in his opening round.
“(The athletes) haven’t had a ton of matchplay in a while, so I was impressed with how they fought through situations — whether it was their opponent playing well or them trying to work on something in their game,” said Amanda Augustus, interim head men’s tennis coach.
Despite their relatively early exits in singles, Kikuchi and Overbeck more than redeemed themselves in the doubles event. After cruising through their first round against San Francisco’s Stevie Gould and Mitchell Johnson, the duo overcame a pair of difficult matches in order to reach Sunday’s final event. Specifically, Kikuchi and Overbeck downed Texas’ Nevin Arimilli and Evin McDonald by a scoreline of 8-7, before edging by Arizona’s Ziverts and Colter Smith in a similarly narrow contest.
Sunday’s final against USC’s Frye and 68th-ranked Stefan Dostanic promised to be the Golden Bear duo’s most challenging match on paper: Dostanic and Frye had both reached the final of the singles event and entered the match as the 17th-ranked doubles pairing in the ITA’s preseason national doubles ranking. Yet, Kikuchi and Overbeck defeated the Trojans with ease, handing them an 8-3 defeat en route to a Cal title.
“It was really exciting, with this being the first tournament of the season, to see us come away with a title in the doubles,” Augustus said. “I think Yuta and Carl Emil had to fight through a couple tough matches and I think they did a really good job considering they’ve never played together before.”
Despite the overall success that the Battle in the Bay tournament was for the Bears, they will hardly have time to bask in the glow of optimistic feelings that the event brought them before returning to competition. The blue and gold are slated to compete in the Harvard Invitational starting Sept. 24 and will fly to the east coast early Thursday morning.
“This was a good start to the season,” Augustus said. “I think (the guys) are excited to rest and then get right back out there and keep getting better.”
In the same way a long first day of high school comes to a close filled with sentiments of relief and excitement at the prospect of more days to come, the blue and gold put down their rackets at the end of the tournament to take a quick breather.
Milad Shafaie covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].