Cal loses its way in desert, looks to recover at home against Oregon, Washington

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Nora Povejsil/Senior Staff

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This weekend of Cal men’s tennis in the Arizona desert was supposed to be the team’s shot at redemption after a tumultuous weekend in Los Angeles that saw No. 42 Cal lose to No. 13 USC and No. 49 UCLA. The squad had gone into the City of Angels riding high on a seven-match winning streak, but losing both matches had to sting for the team. Traveling across state lines to Arizona presented Cal with two opportunities to let go of those matches and regain some semblance of the momentum that carried it to seven straight match wins.

However, Cal’s visit to the desert saw the team fall well short of its goals as it lost matches to No. 67 Arizona State on Friday (4-2) and No. 18 Arizona (4-1) on Sunday. Hot temperatures and high altitudes in the desert certainly did not help, but Cal is now 1-4 in Pac-12 competition and 10-7 overall.

Doubles struggled throughout the weekend as Cal surrendered the doubles point on both occasions, but perhaps the most shocking results in doubles came from the No. 28 team of Cal senior Yuta Kikuchi and freshman Carl Emil Overbeck as it lost both its matches over the weekend.

They lost to ASU’s No. 45 team of sophomore Max McKennon and senior Fabien Salle, 4-6, and followed it up with a bagel loss to Arizona’s Swedish duo of sophomore Herman Hoeyeraal and senior Jonas Ziverts, 0-6. After starting the dual match season undefeated, Kikuchi and Overbeck have now lost three of their last four matches together.

Cal could have made up for its mistakes in doubles with great singles play, but unfortunately for the Bears, singles did not offer it that oasis. It was an especially disappointing weekend for senior Philip Hjorth as he lost both his singles matches and his only finished doubles match.

Hjorth lost to ASU’s No. 87 Salle, 4-6, 5-7, and Arizona’s No. 49 sophomore Gustaf Strom, 4-6, 4-6, in extremely close matches. Perhaps the biggest moment for Cal in singles came from No. 102 Kikuchi’s dominant 6-2, 6-0 win over Arizona’s No. 71 Ziverts, but overall the team’s inability to close out matches in singles hurt them greatly.

Cal head coach Kris Kwinta attributes the team’s struggles to its youth and inexperience.

“I do believe we’re a good team. I really do believe that. We’re just inexperienced. We’re a talented but inexperienced team,” Kwinta said. “We’re gonna have more chances. I have no doubt we can be in position to win some big matches this season again.”

Kwinta raises a great point here about this team’s inability to win at the moment. It is common in tennis for inexperienced players to be just as talented as, if not more talented than, their opponents but still lose badly to them. 

Experience is an important factor in winning matches as there is a pretty direct link between experience and on-court confidence. Cal is one of the most inexperienced teams in the Pac-12 with just two upperclassmen (Kikuchi and Hjorth) and one graduate in Sean Hill.

“We’re not completely outplayed and overpowered at all; we’re just young,” Kwinta said. “We just need to be comfortable in these tough situations, to know that they’re good enough to beat these teams.”

The team definitely has some mental work to do to build confidence in its respective games and carry that on the court.

“Losing is part of the game, but I’m just trying to help the guys understand that losing the right way will eventually turn into winning,” Kwinta said.

Cal will look to carry that mindset into its home matches against No. 44 Oregon on Friday and No. 50 Washington on Saturday. Oregon is led by Aussie junior No. 79 Joshua Charlton and the No. 25 doubles team of Charlton and freshman Quinn Vandecasteele, while Washington is led by No. 4 junior Clement Chidekh, No. 100 senior Ewen Lumsden and the No. 34 doubles team of Chidekh and freshman Nedim Suko.

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