In tennis, you win some, you lose some. Even the greats such as Novak Djokovic can lose a match to someone they probably should not lose to (see Jiri Vesely last week in Dubai).
But this past weekend, Cal men’s tennis, ranked No. 31 in the nation, was unstoppable no matter the weather conditions at the Hellman Tennis Complex, shutting out Army 7-0 a cold, overcast Saturday and UNLV 7-0 a warm, clear Monday.
After two straight tough losses to Pac-12 rivals USC and Stanford, Cal used its two-week break to recover physically and mentally in preparation for Army and UNLV.
Cal’s weekend was highlighted by the play of the team’s No. 1 singles player, senior Yuta Kikuchi. Kikuchi and freshman Carl Emil Overbeck (the No. 12 doubles team in the nation) dominated in their match against Army juniors Thomas Lake and A.J. Woodman, winning 6-2. Kikuchi would then showcase his jaw-dropping talents in a signature double-bagel 6-0, 6-0 win over Army senior Diego Huttepain.
Kikuchi was challenged a bit more against UNLV on Monday. He and Overbeck would come back from a 4-1 deficit to defeat UNLV sophomore Jackson Atherton and senior Jordan Sauer in thrilling fashion, 7-5. Kikuchi and Overbeck seem to have forgotten how to lose together as they continue their undefeated run in dual matches and improve their overall record to 13-3.
Singles was a bit tougher for Kikuchi as he faced off against the UNLV senior ranked No. 31 in the nation, Christopher Bulus. Bulus required a medical timeout during his 3-6 doubles loss with junior Zack Garner against Cal senior Philip Hjorth and freshman Alex Chang (or Chang-er as his teammates lovingly refer to him), so he may not have been 100%. But who is ever 100% in tennis?
After taking a 5-0 lead in the first set, Kikuchi would shockingly lose seven consecutive games (and the set) as he seemed to lose his rhythm. After the set, Kikuchi went to the locker room with a smile — his way of continuing to believe in his tennis. He would go on to win the second set, 6-4, and the third-set tiebreak 10-4.
“It’s obviously a tough moment,” Kikuchi said when asked about his attitude after the first set. “I have a couple of experiences of that, and also, I’ll have it in the future, so coach Kris (Kwinta) told me ‘Hey, this is good practice for you to manage this moment and then stay emotionally calm and organized and reset in the second set.’ So this is good practice for me. These are great hardships to overcome. So that was a great moment for me to overcome something.”
Kikuchi’s performance over the weekend was far from the only highlight for Cal as Hjorth, Overbeck, Chang, graduate transfer Sean Hill, freshman Derrick Chen and sophomore Lucas Magnaudet, all picked up big singles wins without dropping a single set.
Hill was particularly impressive against Army’s Woodman, showcasing things rarely seen on a tennis court. After falling 1-3 in the first set, Hill would win 11 of the next 12 games, winning the match, 6-4, 6-0. When Hill’s second serve wasn’t going in, he slowed it down considerably, just to get a rally and a rhythm going. As he found rhythm in his tennis, Hill would pepper in some slice forehands and astonishing backhand return winners as he showcased his incredibly unique brand of tennis.
“It’s not always easy to be 100% mentally ready for every match, but the guys did a really great job preparing themselves,” Kwinta said about the team’s performance over the weekend.
With those two wins, Cal improves to 5-3 on the season. Up next, the team will be competing in the Pacific Coast Championships, a doubles tournament in beautiful La Jolla in San Diego. Expect Kikuchi and Overbeck to make a deep run in the tournament since, again, it seems they’ve forgotten how to lose together.
Abhi Erra covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].