Tennis is a beautiful game; but as beautiful as the game can be, it can be just as frustrating as any other sport. You can ace your opponent four times in a row, and five minutes later, you can just as easily double fault an entire game away. It takes a high level of mental durability to get through the extreme lows of losing in tennis.
No. 45 Cal men’s tennis entered this past weekend as a loser of five of the previous six matches in Pac-12 competition. While the squad seemed to hit a turning point after gaining some momentum in its win over No. 48 Washington, it was unable to carry over that momentum into its final regular-season match against No. 16 Stanford as Cal lost the Big Slam at home, 4-1.
Cal men’s tennis directly followed the women’s team, which had just beaten Stanford and won the regular-season Pac-12 championship. Cal used some of that leftover energy to propel itself in doubles competition as the blue and gold surprisingly clinched the doubles point with a major tweak in their doubles lineup.
Graduate Sean Hill, in his final match for the Bears, and sophomore Lucas Magnaudet, won the first doubles set, 6-3, over Cardinal seniors Alexandre Rotsaert and Sangeet Sridhar on court three.
Senior Yuta Kikuchi, who usually partners up with freshman Carl Emil Overbeck, was paired with fellow senior Philip Hjorth as they defeated the No. 64 pair of fifth-year Axel Geller and senior Tomas Kopczynski, 7-6 (4), on court one to clinch the doubles point.
Then, singles competition commenced.
Of the six singles matches on court, only one Cal player — freshman Derrick Chen — won his first set. As much as Cal did its best to fight back, Stanford was in firm control of each of the matches where it won the first set.
Magnaudet fell first on court six in a straight sets loss to Stanford sophomore Aryan Chaudhary, 2-6, 3-6. On court one, No. 66 Kikuchi lost a hard fought two-set match to No. 9 sophomore Arthur Fery, 4-6, 3-6. In another intense two-set match, Hjorth was defeated by No. 52 freshman Max Basing on court two, 4-6, 3-6.
Cal officially lost the match after No. 97 Rotsaert defeated Overbeck despite a solid comeback effort from the Dane, 6-2, 7-6 (5).
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly happened between doubles and singles for the Bears to underperform as much as they did in singles, but Cal head coach Kris Kwinta has some ideas.
“Again, (we) played unbelievable in doubles starting with great energy,” Kwinta said. “Then, we come out in singles‚ it’s like a different beast. It was a lack of energy, and it just makes me question why — why is it so hard to bring the energy? That’s all you can do. It doesn’t require playing good or being the best.”
Kwinta’s disappointment in the blue and gold’s performance comes with some understanding that a majority of the team simply lacks the experience to be able to play at a high level in big moments. It is the situation that Cal has had to live with all season — but a situation that has also led the team to a dismal 2-6 conference record.
Cal’s regular season may be over, but it will compete in the Pac-12 championships as the No. 7 seed starting Thursday against No. 2-seeded USC in Ojai.
Abhi Erra covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].