Following a promising start to the fall 2021 season at the Battle in the Bay tournament, the Cal men’s tennis team headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week to compete in the Chowderfest, an invitational tournament held annually at Harvard’s Beren Tennis Center.
The tournament ran from Sept. 24 to Sept. 26 and saw the Bears compete in dual matches against Florida, Harvard and Arizona State.
Cal began the tournament with a showdown against the Florida Gators, who entered the 2021-22 season as the defending national champions. Despite the obvious challenge Florida presented, the blue and gold competed valiantly, earning wins in two of the seven matches played.
Most notably, Cal’s 124th-ranked Yuta Kikuchi earned an enormous upset over the Gator’s 4th-ranked Duarte Vale after winning a thrilling 3rd-set tiebreaker 11-9. Vale, who hails from Cascais, Portugal, led the Gators at the No. 1 singles position for the majority of their championship run last season.
In doubles play, Philip Hjorth teamed with Michael Wright in his partner’s collegiate debut to top the Florida pairing of Andy Andrade and Lukas Greif. According to ITA Division I men’s singles rankings, Andrade and Greif are individually ranked 14th and 111th, respectively.
The following day, the Bears faced the tournament host Harvard, which entered the tournament on the heels of an impressive showing at the Milwaukee Tennis Classic. Even so, the blue and gold matched the Crimson’s level of play, claiming three of the seven duels, and losing by relatively slim margins in three of the four matches they dropped.
In singles, Hjorth and Carl Emil Overbeck notched victories over Harvard’s Ronan Jachuck and Daniel Milavsky, respectively. Meanwhile, Noah Gampel, Kikuchi and Wright each fell in their matches. Hjorth and Wright showed further promise as a duo, however, posting a dominant 6-1 win over the home team’s pairing of David Lins and Niels Korsgaard.
On the final day of the Chowderfest, Cal saw a familiar Pac-12 foe in Arizona State, which also had two of its players compete at the Battle in the Bay. Similar to their previous two matches, the blue and gold matched up evenly with the Sun Devils in this showdown, splitting the six matches played evenly. The pairing of Kikuchi with Hjorth and Wright with Overbeck each posted wins in doubles, continuing the trend of strong doubles play from the Bears this season. Cal was less dominant in singles, however, with Hjorth being the lone victor after clinching a 6-4, 7-6 win over ASU’s Christian Lerby.
As the spring season approaches, the Bears’ performance as a whole at the three-day event certainly gives fans reason to be optimistic about this squad.
First, Hjorth continues to emerge as a star and leader on the team, which is evidenced by his 5-1 overall record at the tournament. Additionally, while Kikuchi is yet to see consistent singles results, his win over 4th-ranked Vale suggests that he has the potential to be among the nation’s best players this season.
Finally, the blue and gold continue to display the strong doubles that earned them the doubles title at the Battle in the Bay. The Bears were 4-2 in doubles play last weekend, with Wright and Hjorth each posting undefeated records in doubles.
Cal will now turn its attention to the ITA All-American Championships at the University of Tulsa. Overbeck and Hjorth will begin in the tournament’s prequalifying event, which starts Saturday, Oct. 2. Meanwhile, Kikuchi will begin his quest for a main-draw berth from the qualifying event, which starts Monday.
Milad Shafaie covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].