Desert trek: Cal travels to Arizona desert looking for an oasis

Photo of Cal men's tennis player serving
Nora Povejsil/Senior Staff

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After two tough road losses to conference rivals in No. 15 USC and No. 59 UCLA, No. 27 Cal men’s tennis is licking its wounds. The Bears entered the weekend winners of seven consecutive matches, so this past weekend promised big expectations. But Cal fell short on both attempts to deliver on those expectations.

In a highly variable and competitive sport like tennis, losing big after a big winning streak is a fairly common occurrence. But the disappointment is still warranted for the team as it came out flat, particularly in its match against UCLA.

The best course of action for Cal is to simply move on from those disappointing losses. It will look to rebound against No. 61 Arizona State in Tempe this Friday and No. 19 Arizona in Tucson two days later.

The Sun Devils enter the weekend 5-11 after losing three straight with losses to No. 36 Princeton, USC and Arizona. They have two ranked singles players in No. 25 freshman Murphy Cassone and No. 87 senior Fabien Salle. The team of Salle and sophomore Max McKennon are ranked 45th in the nation in doubles.

Meanwhile, the hot 15-5 Arizona are winners of two straight after defeating USC and Arizona State. Four Wildcats are ranked in singles: No. 49 sophomore Gustaf Strom, No. 71 senior Jonas Eriksson Ziverts, No. 80 sophomore Herman Hoeyeraal and No. 103 freshman Colton Smith. Arizona has no ranked doubles teams.

Cal will be battling not only against two tough opponents, but also against extreme conditions. Both Tempe and Tucson sit on high altitudes in the Sonoran Desert.

“The weather factor is pretty strong,” said Cal men’s tennis head coach Kris Kwinta. “Playing in (high) altitude has a different set of rules that apply. (The coaching staff is preparing) to make the guys aware that it’s not going to be their previous tennis — probably not the best tennis — but it’s the scrappiness and willingness to problem solve in tough conditions that will win.”

Seniors Yuta Kikuchi and Philip Hjorth have led the team throughout the season, and their leadership has been important for a young Cal team with six underclassmen. The underclassmen will have to use their limited experience in road matches to have a chance in extreme conditions in Arizona.

Kikuchi is the only Cal player ranked, as he is No. 102 in singles, but after an impressive winning streak of seven matches, he has dropped two straight matches in singles competition with losses to UCLA’s No. 38 Alexander Hoogmartens and USC’s No. 6 Stefan Dostanic. As the number-one singles player on the roster, he will likely have to face tough opponents in Cassone and Strom.

Together with freshman Carl Emil Overbeck, Kikuchi is also part of the No. 28 doubles team in the country. They suffered a tough toss to USC’s No. 17 Dostanic and Bradley Frye and will look to find the synergy that saw them not lose in dual competition until March 13 against Utah at home.

Overbeck, along with freshman Derrick Chen and sophomore Lucas Magnaudet, have impressed thus far this season as the top underclassmen on the team. All three have played important roles as the bottom-three singles players and each have held their own. Overbeck has clinched two matches, while Chen and Magnaudet have each clinched one.

The underclassmen may have struggled a bit in road matches thus far, but they will look to help Cal rebound in the Pac-12 standings.

Abhi Erra covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].