Cal men’s tennis has a busy schedule this week.
The Bears began their series of four home games by playing the Columbia Lions on Monday afternoon. Heading into the match, No. 11 Columbia was the favorite to win, boasting a record of 8-1, with its only loss coming from No. 10 Harvard in its very first match of the season. With an eight-game win streak and housing strong players such as Michael Zheng, who ranks 16th in singles, the Bears were no doubt the underdog.
But that didn’t show when the Bears opened their match.
Coming in strong out of the gate, Cal won the first game in all three doubles matches. While the Lions kept up with the Bears’ service games, the Bears always seemed to be a step ahead, parrying away everything the Lions threw at them.
Bears’ Carl Emil Overbeck and Siddhant Banthia claimed the first doubles victory for Cal on court one, winning 6-4. Ryder Jackson and Lucas Magnaudet quickly followed behind with the second doubles victory, winning 6-4 as well — and giving Cal the doubles point and a 1-0 lead.
The Bears’ energy and momentum from doubles carried over into the first sets of the singles matches. Seemingly unstoppable, the Bears won five of the six first first sets in singles, with sophomore Derrick Chen and Magnaudet both winning their first sets 6-1.
The first singles win also went to the Bears, with Jackson defeating the Lions’ Alex Kotzen. During the second set, however, Kotzen became increasingly frustrated. The winds were behind Cal, and all signs pointed to an upset.
Then, the cracks started showing.
“It was nearly a perfect start, and then, unfortunately, with a switch of a button, we stopped,” said Cal head coach Kris Kwinta. “They were able to turn the momentum around.”
The second singles win went to Columbia’s Zheng, who defeated Cal’s Yuta Kikuchi 6-3, 6-4. Cal proceeded to lose every other second set but one, flipping the tables on the Bears. With the score at 2-1 in favor of Cal, the Bears entered the third round of singles still hopeful with their lead.
But the Bears could not hold on. Columbia proceeded to win three more matches, defeating the Bears’ Banthia, Philip Hjorth and Magnaudet. Despite its initial lead, Cal fell short to the Lions, losing the match 4-2 and bringing its record to 7-3.
“All of a sudden we went down on all the courts in the second set,” Banthia said. “It was just a lack of focus.”
After facing the Lions, Cal will host the SMU Mustangs on Wednesday. SMU is 9-8 heading into the matchup, after losing to No. 73 UCF on Sunday. The Mustangs are closely matched with the Bears in the teams’ all-time record, with the Bears only leading 9-8 in the rivalry.
However, the Bears have a solid lead over the Mustangs in this season’s record and seem to be poised to take the 10th win against the Mustangs.
The Bears have also done very well in doubles this season, having won all but one doubles point, with their only doubles loss being against San Diego. The Mustangs, on the other hand, have dropped five doubles points in their 17 matches.
Cal will then open its Pac-12 play at home on Friday against No. 31 Arizona State, which is currently at 11-4 after losing to No. 50 Texas Tech on Saturday but winning against No. 55 Oregon in a solid 4-0 victory the day after.
In the two teams’ history, the Bears solidly lead the Sun Devils 49-17. However, ASU is coming off of a strong win against Oregon, with a respectable record this season overall.
Finally, Cal will end its four consecutive home games against No. 17 Arizona on Sunday, continuing in conference play. The Wildcats have improved their record to 12-3 after posting four straight wins against Northern Arizona, No. 66 Gonzaga, No. 38 Oklahoma and No. 56 Tulsa. The Bears are historically 55-16 against Arizona, but if the Bears play like they did against Columbia, that record might well drop to 55-17.