Big Slam part 2: Cal looks to finish regular season strong against Stanford

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The moment of truth is finally upon us. On the back end of a disappointing 2-5 Pac-12 season, No. 45 Cal men’s tennis takes on its biggest rival in No. 16 Stanford on Saturday in the second edition of the Big Slam of the season. In the first Big Slam on Feb. 12, Cal traveled to Stanford and lost 4-0, but it went to three sets in four singles matches.

“(The match) slipped away, but for the guys to see that they’re close with top-10 teams in the country and we have chances at every spot, it’s encouraging,” said Cal head coach Kris Kwinta in an interview after that loss. “We just need to find another gear, go back to work and be ready for the next opportunity we get.”

Cal gets its opportunity to exact vengeance on the team across the bay, but this time the blue and gold get home-court advantage at the Hellman Tennis Complex. Home-court advantage, however, may not be enough for the Bears to defeat the firepower of the Cardinal.

Stanford has ranked players up and down its roster. Sophomore Arthur Fery is currently No. 9 in singles competition in the nation. Other ranked players in singles for Stanford include No. 52 freshman Max Basing and No. 97 senior Alexandre Rotsaert.

Doubles will also prove to be a challenge for the Bears as the Cardinal have multiple ranked doubles teams, including the No. 14 partnership of Fery and Rotsaert and the No. 64 team of fifth-year Axel Geller and senior Tomas Kopczynski.

Experience — or lack thereof — has played a big part in Cal’s struggles throughout the Pac-12 season, and it may play a large factor in its match against Stanford. Cal’s roster is constructed with just three upperclassmen; Stanford, on the other hand, has seven upperclassmen on its roster.

“We’re much more comfortable in our skins,” Kwinta said when asked about how the team has improved since its last outing against Stanford. “Now (the freshmen) know what to expect, what the level is, what it takes to play a competitive match like that for three hours on sustained intensity. We go into this one way more experienced than we did the first time. And we’re much more prepared mentally than we were last time.”

The underclassman singles lineup of freshman Carl Emil Overbeck, freshman Derrick Chen and sophomore Lucas Magnaudet will look to use its experience and newfound knowledge of the game to defeat Stanford in singles competition.

Overbeck will be teaming up with senior Yuta Kikuchi and will likely be playing Fery and Rotsaert in court one doubles. Overbeck and Kikuchi started the season off extremely strong, going undefeated through their first dual matches of the season. They even peaked at No. 9 in the nation in doubles, but as they have stumbled through the Pac-12 season, they now find themselves ranked No. 42. As a unit, combining Overbeck’s size and net presence with Kikuchi’s intensity from the backcourt, the team can beat anybody in the country, and it will look to do so in the biggest match of the season against the No. 14 doubles team in the country.

Seniors Kikuchi (No. 66 in singles) and Philip Hjorth will also likely be playing their final home matches for Cal. Kikuchi has been at Cal since his freshman year, while Hjorth transferred to Cal from the University of the Pacific his junior year. Their contributions to Cal men’s tennis cannot go understated.

This is the final match of the Pac-12 season for the Bears, and they will look to finish strong against their biggest rival.

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