When Cal men’s tennis takes the court at the Hellman Tennis Center on Monday against No. 27 Pepperdine, it will mark more than two months since the blue and gold played their last match. The Bears last competed Jan. 25, when they beat UNLV after falling to UCLA two days prior.
Cal faced multiple postponements and cancellations of matches this season due to COVID-19 complications. Originally, the team was scheduled to play San Francisco and San Diego in late February but the USF match was canceled and the USD match was rescheduled to mid-March. In a similar turn of events, the USD match was called off, along with a match against UC Irvine that was scheduled to occur during the same weekend.
Now the Bears (2-1) take on the Waves (6-4), which is riding into Berkeley on a wave of its own. Pepperdine dropped its first three games early in the season — games in which the team was missing key players in its lineup — but the Waves have claimed six of their last seven outings, including wins over No. 8 USC and No. 14 Oklahoma State. Their one loss in that streak came against No. 4 Texas Christian University.
Most recently, Pepperdine routed Washington 6-1 on March 22 with the lone point lost on court one by graduate student Adrian Oetzbach, who was ranked No. 67 in the latest ITA singles rankings. The Waves will face Santa Clara and USF on Friday and Saturday, respectively, before they visit Cal to wrap up their Bay Area tour.
The visitors’ roster, which boasts no ranked individuals outside of Oetzbach, is definitely nothing to snooze at. In preseason rankings, junior Corrado Summaria ranked No. 90 in singles. On the doubles side, the duo of Oetzbach and junior Daniel De Jonge came in at No. 34 while Summaria and Tim Zeitvogel were ranked No. 58. Pepperdine’s players also have plenty of experience against other ranked competitors, most notably in matches against TCU, USC, Oklahoma State and Washington. On the other hand, the Bears have only seen ranked play against the Bruins, so in terms of experience, a battle-hardened Waves squad appears to have the upper hand.
On paper, however, Cal’s roster seems to have a solid chance to compete. The Bears have no players ranked in the most recent rankings — most likely due to their lack of games played. But, in preseason rankings, Cal boasted multiple ranked players: No. 42 Yuta Kikuchi, No. 44 Jack Molloy, No. 63 Paul Barretto, No. 97 Philip Hjorth and No. 36 doubles pair in Barretto and Can Kaya.
With limited playing time this season, the jury is still out on the Bears’ ability to perform at a high level. Following his team’s clash with the Rebels, Peter Wright, director of Cal men’s tennis, harped on the Bears’ doubles woes and emphasized a need to reduce unforced errors. Monday’s match should show if the blue and gold have cleaned up their play.
After hosting Pepperdine, Cal has only eight matches scheduled before the postseason, barring any further cancellations or postponements. These next few matches will likely prove crucial in providing the Bears with experience — experience they will need if they hope to make a deep run in the Pac-12 and NCAA championship tournaments.