Cal men’s tennis is in a losing slump, with its 4-2 loss against then-No. 40 Utah on the road marking its fourth consecutive loss. The Bears now stand at 9-7 overall, with the Utah loss bringing Cal’s conference record to 1-2.
The blue and gold seemed to have regained their doubles mojo, following losses against Arizona, Pepperdine and UC Santa Barbara. Cal’s Siddhant Banthia and Carl Emil Overbeck, who have been reunited as a team following a change in the doubles lineup last weekend, defeated Utah’s No. 26 team in Berk Bugarikj and Patrik Trhac 6-4.
On court three, Utah’s Francisco Bastias and Bruno Caula defeated Cal’s Yuta Kikuchi and Philip Hjorth 6-2, meaning that the doubles point came down to the result on court two. The Bears’ Ryder Jackson and Lucas Magnaudet clinched the doubles point with a 6-2 win, giving Cal the 1-0 lead over the Hawks.
The Bears now have a 10-4 overall doubles record this season — a solid record despite its recent doubles slump.
“Out of the four losses we just recently had, I would say that this is one of my favorites, if I can say that,” said head coach Kris Kwinta. “We prepared well. The team chemistry was amazing. We did some fun things leading up to the match with the team. We felt really close together.”
Sophomore Derrick Chen carried the momentum of doubles into his singles match against Utah’s Caula on court four, defeating Caula in straight sets and putting Cal in a 2-0 lead. But in what seems to be traditional Cal fashion this season, the Bears’ early success came to a screeching halt as the Hawks won four singles matches in a row.
The cracks in Cal’s momentum first began to show when Bastias defeated Overbeck in straight sets on court three. Then Magnaudet fell to Trhac on court six, followed by Geronimo Esmin Busleiman’s defeat of Jackson on court two — both also in straight sets. Bugarikj clinched the victory for the Hawks with his three-set defeat of Hjorth on court five with a 6-1, 6-7(6-8), 6-2 score.
Despite having a week to work on their game since their loss to the Gauchos, the Bears have not been able to bring the momentum of their early-game successes into their singles matches. As Kwinta has said earlier in the season, when Cal wins the doubles point, the Bears struggle to maintain their energy; it’s become somewhat customary for the team to gain a lead, then drop significantly in the second half. This is even a problem when the Bears play at home, as evidenced by the Bears’ 2-2 record in its four-game home stretch in March.
That being said, the Bears’ matchup against Utah took place in drastically different conditions than what they’re used to. While Berkeley sits at 171 feet above sea level, Salt Lake City towers overhead at 4,226 feet above sea level — nearly a mile. That rise in altitude means a drastic drop in oxygen levels, and is something the Hawks seem to use to their advantage this season, given their 10-0 home record.
“When you play high-altitude ball, everything is flying. Not to make any excuses, we were aware of those conditions and everybody knows, but it’s a huge advantage for them playing there,” Kwinta said. “We did a pretty good job of preparing them to get used to the altitude, both mentally and physically, but then the stress of the situation comes and it’s not always easy to execute in those stressful situations.”
Regardless of where they play, the Bears will need to learn how to carry their energy through to the end. Whether they do so will begin to be evident in their next two games, playing at home in familiar conditions.
Kwinta said before these matches, the Bears will be working on their serve as well as mental aspects of the game, specifically how to handle making mistakes.
The final five matches the Bears will play before the Pac-12 championships will all be conference matches. Cal will begin playing against UCLA on Friday, followed by another home game against the USC Trojans on Saturday.