Traditionally, October is a decisive month for Cal men’s tennis players’ season: It ends their summer endeavors and sets the tone for the fall term and its collection of various tournaments.
Graduate student Yuta Kikuchi and third seed favorably identified this date in his calendar as he seized the opportunity to reach the final of the Kunal Patel San Francisco, or KPSF, Open against ATP ranked no. 364 Govind Nanda, only losing 4-6, 1-6.
Held at the Goldman Tennis Center in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, this tournament welcomed at its earliest stages six Bears. Four of them accessed the round of 16: Lucas Magnaudet, Sean Hill, Yuta Kikuchi and Alex Chang, the latter convincingly beating Daniel Cardiff, 6-4, 6-0.
While French Junior Magnaudet fell short to Oyster Bay, New York, player Neel Rajesh (6-1, 5-7, 3-10), Hill continued his winning streak in upsetting Andrew Gu, 7-6, 6-2.
One Bear may hide another, but Chang was too limited to hope of accomplishing this prophecy in the round of 32. Future finalist Yuta Kikuchi was too strong and dominated his counterpart, 6-4, 6-3.
Hazards regrouped many blue and golds in the same side of the draw. It increased the likelihood of intra-Cal games in the quarterfinals in case of strong performances. This was true last Friday for the two last Bears remaining, graduates Hill and Kikuchi. Although the former easily nailed the first set and left the latter scoreless, 6-0, Kikuchi had enough resources to overcome this deficit and snagged two sets to join the semifinals, 6-3, 6-3.
Nineteen-year-old Aidan Mayo stood in front of Kikuchi in the KPSF semifinals. Spectators on Court 6 assisted to an attractive fixture where the Bear ultimately prevailed, 6-4, 6-1.
The concluding match of the tournament was an occasion for the 2018-2019 ITA Northwest Region Rookie of the Year to end his week on a high note. However, fourth-seeded Nanda emerged stronger and defeated the Bear in two sets.
Cal men’s tennis director Kris Kwinta commented on Yuta Kikuchi’s KPSF journey: “A bunch of guys were playing and Yuta was the one who emerged best of the group. I thought (he) played better and better after each match, he was improving on his game, working on his serve, looking to approach the net. It’s always great that he implements new things in this tournament.”
Bears are now looking ahead to the ITA Northwest Super Regional Championships at Stanford from Oct. 21-24.
No less than seven Bears are expected to hit the courts, with Ryder Jackson playing doubles with Carl Emil Overbeck, in addition to both playing individually.
The ITA Regional Championships men’s doubles winning pair John Kim and Mikey Wright will try to reiterate their impressive performance on the lands of their greatest rivals. Other players involved are Magnaudet, Chang and Derrick Chen.
“I just want the guys to be courageous enough to adapt and to play under pressure, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” Kwinta declared. “We ended up winning the whole process at home, but we need to continue to do the right thing. We have to be competitive but it’s all about development (and) mental and technical skills.”
Conversely, on the professional circuit, KSPF runner-up Kikuchi and firth-year Siddhant Banthia will be busy next week at the M15 Tournament in Norman, Oklahoma, starting on Monday, Oct. 24.
Kikuchi’s KPSF final confirms the turning point that October constitutes. Either this achievement inspires other Bears to uplift their level in Stanford or condemns them to ramp up in case of poor performance. Like at home two weeks ago, the two pairs engaged in the doubles draw may be Cal’s best winning chances in the Super Regional Championships.
Once again, the fall delivers on its promises, and the upcoming tournaments will give observers a clearer idea of the Bears’ strengths this season.