Following a mixed start to the season — with an especially strong doubles showing, albeit unsatisfactory singles results against FSU — Cal men’s tennis is now looking to settle into the spring grind. A grueling schedule packed with week-in, week-out dual matches is hard work for any player. But Cal faces extra pressure: In its first week, the team is set to face its Bay Area rival, Stanford.
Before they get to face off against the Cardinal, though, the Bears have to first get past the Gaels. Cal is scheduled to play Saint Mary’s on Tuesday, in its first home dual match of the year.
Both teams are heading into the matchup with a 0-1 record on the season. While Cal has played some promising matches, with a perfect one-for-one doubles record in dual matches so far, Saint Mary’s took a beating against none other than Cal’s soon-to-be opponent: Stanford.
What’s more, every singles loss Saint Mary’s faced against the Cardinal came in straight sets — the highest single set score was 6-4, of which there was only one. The Bears should be going into the match fairly at ease: The Gaels have yet to beat the Bears, with the record standing at 0-9 against the blue and gold.
After its first trial of the week, Cal will move onto its South Bay nemesis Friday — its first conference dual match of the season. The blue and gold will get to kick off conference play at home, a considerable advantage against such a powerful opponent.
Stanford is something of a West Coast tennis powerhouse, coming into the season ranked No. 12 in the ITA Collegiate Tennis Rankings. At the end of 2022, the Cardinal also saw two top-10 appearances in singles rankings, in No. 2 Nishesh Basavareddy and No. 7 Max Basing.
In the same singles rankings, Cal appeared just once, in the No. 52 spot, courtesy of USC transfer Ryder Jackson. Two of Cal’s stars in Yuta Kikuchi and Carl Emil Overbeck also held the No. 27 doubles ranking at the end of last year, an impressive feat with so many doubles teams across the country.
Besides rankings, the Cardinal also hold the upper hand when it comes to their history against the Bears. Stanford has a 30-14 winning record against Cal, something the blue and gold are surely hoping to improve on come Friday. The last time the Bears managed to beat the Cardinal was nearly six years ago, when Cal was ranked No. 11.
Now, however, Cal stands unranked in the coaches poll, outside of the preseason top 25.
The Bears do have a weapon in Kikuchi, who pulled out a huge win against No. 4 Garrett Johns last week in Hawaii with a 7-5, 4-6, 10-5 upset. The graduate student, hailing from Japan, ended his 2021-22 season ranked No. 98 in the ITA Northwest Region polls.
Joined by Ryder, Overbeck and other seasoned players on the team, individual players are looking very strong on Cal’s roster. At this point, the question is whether the Bears will be able to pull off a team win — a crucial aspect in the spring season of collegiate tennis.
This first week back on Hellman Tennis Complex will be a key starting point for a long string of dual matches ahead in the season, especially after starting off on the road. It’ll be important to notch some wins, but also to get more time on the court ahead of the ITA Kickoff Weekend in the following week: The winners of each of the 15 respective Kickoff Weekends will advance to the ITA Indoor National Championships.
And so, as Cal prepares to face Saint Mary’s and Stanford, the stakes are ever-increasing as the season goes on.