The 2-1 Cal men’s tennis team begins its Pac-12 season this weekend as it takes on No. 23 UCLA on Saturday and No. 8 USC on Sunday. Both matches will be played at the Hellman Tennis Complex in Berkeley and will take place in two weeks following their 5-2 victory over St. Mary’s College of California.
“We’re still figuring out our doubles situation,” said head coach Kris Kwinta about how the team has been preparing the past two weeks. “Just polishing certain plays in singles and helping guys have more awareness on the court … Put in good hours preparing physically for our bodies to compete this weekend.”
This weekend will present Kwinta with his first Pac-12 match as head coach for Cal men’s tennis. He also has a history with both programs that he will be going up against this weekend. As a player at UCLA, Kwinta earned All-American honors, and worked there as an assistant coach before making the trek across Los Angeles to USC in 2012.
“I look back on those times as critical growing opportunities and an unforgettable part of my life, but now I’m finally at the stage where I can take that knowledge and direct it back at them,” Kwinta said. “The rivalry has been a long one and has been going back and forth. We’re just excited to be back on the court and competing to be honest — and having an opportunity to test ourselves against these teams.”
No. 23 UCLA has two ranked singles players in freshman Alexander Hoogmartens (No. 41) and sophomore Stefan Leustian (No. 96).
No. 8 USC has five ranked singles players and two ranked doubles teams. Cal looks to take on the hefty task of facing junior Stefan Dostanic (No. 6), freshman Peter Makk (No. 35), sophomore Lodewijk Weststrate (No. 40), senior Bradley Frye (No. 70) and junior Samuel Rubell (No. 94). Their two ranked doubles teams are Dostanic and Frye (No. 10) and Dostanic and Rubell (No. 12).
“Everybody’s beatable in my book. I don’t look at the numbers,” Kwinta said. “All our guys have enough ability, talents and preparation to beat anybody. If we go out with that attitude and that mindset and we stay together and jump on these guys, we’re going to have a good chance to upset both of them. I believe that.”
In order to accomplish these upsets, Cal will need significant contributions from all its players. Senior Yuta Kikuchi struggled against St. Mary’s in his singles match, losing 6-2, 6-2 to senior James Watt.
“That was one of those days where (Yuta) was a little sick — it obviously wasn’t COVID. He wasn’t himself so I don’t even look at that match as anything,” Kwinta said. “We moved on. He’s been practicing well — playing really good, polishing some of his plays.”
Cal will also likely have the full squad available for the first time since the beginning of the year as freshman and Berkeley local Alex Chang looks to return to action after an abdominal strain suffered earlier in the season. Even then, the team is a bit worse for wear as the brunt of the season has begun to take its toll on the players, but Kwinta cites 2022 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal as a source of inspiration for the team.
“We all love watching Rafa and admire Rafa. He always struggles through injuries and pains and aches and blisters and tiredness and fatigue and that’s just part of what we do,” Kwinta said. “You just have to be mentally prepared for that.”
Cal will have to employ that exact mental toughness on back-to-back days as it looks to upset both the Trojans and the Bruins.
Abhi Erra covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].