The month of March has been kind to No. 32 Cal men’s tennis as the Bears stomped into this past weekend winners of five straight. Cal would get to the other side of the weekend picking up a pair of gutsy wins over Yale on Saturday and No. 56 Cal Poly on Sunday, extending its winning streak to seven.
The underdog Bulldogs gave Cal arguably its most dramatic day of tennis of the current winning streak. After a 195-minute rain delay, Cal and Yale commenced with doubles competition. Cal continued its struggle in doubles as graduate transfer Sean Hill and French sophomore Lucas Magnaudet fell to Yale sophomore and Bay Area local Theo Dean and freshman Aidan Reilly, 4-6. Cal conceded the doubles point following freshman Alex Chang and senior Philip Hjorth’s loss to Yale freshman Walker Oberg and junior Michael Sun, 5-7.
The No. 17 team of senior Yuta Kikuchi and freshman Carl Emil Overbeck did not get to finish their doubles match, but they were down 4-5 to Yale sophomore Renaud Lefevre and senior Cody Lin.
Singles competition was a roller coaster for Cal as it would win three of the first five singles matches to take the overall match score to 3-3. The chances of another Cal victory looked dire as the final match on court two saw Hjorth falling behind in the third set to Dean, 2-5. Hjorth has battled in quite a few three-set matches thus far in the season, but this looked to be among his toughest tests of the season.
Hjorth responded to the moment aggressively as he stormed back with great intensity, winning five consecutive games to win the third set, 7-5. Hjorth’s heroics gave Cal the 4-3 win over the challenging underdog Yale.
As Saturday’s match against Yale was an all-out slugfest that defied expectations, Sunday’s match against No. 56 Cal Poly was somewhat of a dud. Despite once again conceding the doubles point, Cal blitzed Cal Poly in singles competition, winning the overall match 6-1.
Overbeck clinched the match with a dominant win over Mustang redshirt sophomore Colter Smith, 6-0, 6-2. However, Hjorth and Overbeck were far from the only great performers for the blue and gold over the weekend.
The Pac-12 Player of the Week for the week of March 15 and No. 91 singles player in the country, Kikuchi, extended his impressive singles winning streak to seven matches, defeating Bulldog’s junior No. 75 Sun, 6-2, 6-3, and Mustang’s sophomore Noah Berry, 6-4, 6-3.
With the two wins, Cal moves to 10-3 on the season. But Cal head coach Kris Kwinta knows his team can play better going forward.
“I’m just looking at (the win streak) from a perspective of how we’re improving. Winning doesn’t necessarily mean improving,” Kwinta said. “There’s some tough matches coming our way.”
As Kwinta said, it only gets tougher for Cal as the Pac-12 season kicks into full gear this weekend. No. 32 Cal will go on the road for its toughest weekend of the season as it competes against No. 46 UCLA on Friday and No. 9 USC on Saturday.
Cal defeated UCLA handily at home in nonconference play Feb. 5, 4-0, in a defining early-season win for the Bears. Cal lost at home to USC the next day — also in nonconference play — by a match score of 2-4.These are also Cal’s first road matches since losing the Big Slam to Stanford on Feb. 12, 0-4, but Kwinta is confident in his team’s mental toughness.
“Now these guys — especially the freshman — know what to expect on the road,” Kwinta said. “We’re for sure more prepared.”
Abhi Erra covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].