After making it to the NCAA championship last season, Cal men’s tennis is back for the 2023-24 season. While dual matches for the collegiate season happen in the spring, fall is more focused on championships and tournaments, preparing the team for conference play and facing high caliber opponents come 2024.
The Bears will open their season with the Battle in the Bay Qualifier this weekend — a tournament that serves as the qualifier for the Battle in the Bay Classic, hosted annually in San Francisco. Play will begin Friday and continue through Sunday. As part of the tournament, Cal will be hosting Arizona State, UC Davis, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific, Saint Mary’s and San Francisco, though the draws are yet to be announced.
The Bears finished last season with a better showing than the program has seen in recent years, making the NCAA team tournament for the first time since 2019 and ending the season with a No. 27 ranking. Although Cal went 4-4 in Pac-12 dual matches, the Bears managed to finish above a .500 record, finishing 13-11.
Though Cal lost its No. 1 player in Yuta Kikuchi to graduation, the roster is still full of veteran talent under third-year coach Kris Kwinta.
Not everyone will be playing in the upcoming tournament, though — only seven players from the Bears’ roster will be featured on the Hellman and Channing home courts this weekend. And with a lot of turnover in the program since last spring, many fresh faces will be playing in the blue and gold for the first time.
Out of the seven Cal players who will be featured in the draw, only three are returning: junior Mikey Wright, junior Derrick Chen and sophomore John Kim. There will also be four new faces in Alex Aney, Ethan Schiffman, Jonathan Irwanto and Timofey Stepanov.
All of the seven players are set to compete in singles or doubles, with each qualifying based on their performance this weekend and not as a team.
Although the draws have not yet been announced, the Bears will be facing some stiff competition this weekend. There are no team rankings available at this point in the season, but several Arizona State players are featured in the preseason singles and doubles rankings — including Murphy Cassone, who sits at the No. 4 spot in the country.
Cal only has one appearance in the rankings, though the doubles team of Lucas Magnaudet and Ryder Jackson will not be appearing in the tournament this weekend.
Last year, the Bears played six of the seven teams — with the exception being Nevada — that will be sending players to this weekend’s tournament. Cal’s first Pac-12 win last year came against ASU, when Carl Emil Overbeck clinched the 4-2 win.
The Bears also shut out UC Davis and Saint Mary’s in 2023, while also beating Pacific and San Francisco 6-1 and 5-1, respectively.
Although Cal performed well against these teams last year, everything is still to play for given how much turnover tennis programs face year to year.