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Cal Men’s and Women’s Tennis - Bears ready to be NCAA contenders again?

Both Cal men’s and women’s tennis are ranked in the top 25 again.

Bears might have the perfect blend of experience and youthful talent to surprise the collegiate tennis world this year.
Cal Women’s Tennis Twitter

Cal Men’s and Women’s Tennis has been in action through the fall and the Indoor season kickoff last weekend. With some results to look at, I’m optimistic about these two programs returning to the level of 4 years ago in 2016, when both programs made the NCAA team championships final 4.

Cal Men’s Tennis has a lot of stability in their lineup from last year. Cal Women’s Tennis adds a few impact freshmen to possibly improve by a tier. While both programs will be staying home for the final 16 of the indoor tennis season in a few weeks because they each only went 1-1 this past weekend, they should both be in the final 16 (if not better) comes the NCAA championships.

Both the Cal men’s and women’s tennis teams took a winter vacation training trip to Melbourne, Australia recently. While the timing may have been bad given the wildfire problem there, hopefully the Bears were able to get their practices in and enjoy the trip without any air quality issues.

No.15 Cal Men’s Tennis - The time is now

2019 Recap - 16-13, 2-2 in Pac-12; NCAA 2nd round, lost to No.2 Texas

Unless you’re brand new to college sports, you know how cyclical most collegiate programs are (barring very few exceptions of programs that constantly reload seamlessly). The former No.1 recruiting class in the country is now juniors at Cal. Bears also have a pretty strong No.1 player in sophomore Yuta Kikuchi that could beat anyone on any given match. 2020 could be a season when the Cal Men’s Tennis program returns to the top 10 in the rankings and be a dark horse NCAA national title contender again. This is particularly true if you are a believer in Cal head coach Peter Wright’s solid track record of having his players improve during their stay in Berkeley.

Golden Bears split their ITA kick-off weekend matches down at The Farm. Bears defeated Miami (FL) in the opener before falling to No.11 Stanford in the 2nd round. While the loss to Stanford had a 4-0 final score, the matchup was much closer than that with the Bears leading in the 3rd sets of the 3 abandoned singles and the clinching singles loss coming also in a deciding 3rd set.

Cal men’s squad can basically use the exact same lineup as last year with no turnover in personnel thanks to no seniors last year and no freshmen this year. Comparing the lineup for this past weekend to last year, sophomore Kent Hunter has replaced junior Jacob Brumm toward the bottom of the singles lineup.

In doubles, Cal have:

1: Yuta Kikuchi/Jack Molloy

2: Paul Barretto/Can Kaya

3: No. 22 Ben Draper/Bjorn Hoffmann

In singles, Cal have:

1: No. 34 Yuta Kikuchi

2: No. 49 Jack Molloy

3: Kent Hunter

4: Paul Barretto

5: Ben Draper

6: No. 81 Bjorn Hoffman

The rankings come from players’ fall results playing as individuals or pairs.

On the men’s side, Pac-12 tennis will again have some of the best teams in the country. Stanford (at 11), UCLA (at 10), and USC (at 3) are all ranked ahead of the Bears right now. Still, for a team with high expectation like this Cal squad, this should be a good thing.

Cal will hosts the LA schools in a non-conference dual meets this upcoming weekend. I am expecting a pair of tough battles.

No.21 Cal Women’s Tennis - Strong debuts by freshmen in Fall tennis

2019 Recap - 13-9, 6-4 in Pac-12; NCAA 2nd round, lost to No.6 Pepperdine

Unlike the Cal men, Cal women’s tennis did graduate two key players in Olivia Hauger and Maria Smith from last year’s team. However, Cal Bears also already have two clear replacements for those two in freshmen Haley Giavara and Valentina Ivanov, both of whom earned top 25 individual rankings this fall.

In fact, Cal’s lineup for this past weekend’s ITA Kick-off included a 3rd freshman with Erin Richardson also in the mix to a lineup that has two experienced juniors in No.1 Julia Rosenqvist and Anna Bright. Jessica Zeynel, another junior, or senior Katerina Stloukalova have been used in the bottom of the singles lineup.

Due to strong fall results in usual tournament formats, Cal currently has 4 ranked players in the top of the singles lineup - Rosenqvist is No.45 in the country; Giavara is No.21; Ivanov is No.20; Bright is at No.100.

More about the pair of Cal freshman sensations: Giavara has a WTA rankings in the 600’s from high school. Ivanov, born in New Zealand, is actually an Australia native. Ivanov has represented New Zealand in international competitions. We shall see how these two players respond to the dual meet format where the best teams learn to feed off one-another in ways that they don’t generally do when playing as individuals.

In doubles, Cal have:

1: No. 13 Anna Bright/Haley Giavara

2: Valentina Ivanov/Julia Rosenqvist

3: Jasie Dunk/Katerina Stloukalova

In singles, Cal have:

1: No. 45 Julia Rosenqvist

2: No. 21 Haley Giavara

3: No. 20 Valentina Ivanov

4: No. 100 Anna Bright

5: Katerina Stloukalova

6: Erin Richardson

Over the weekend from Lawrence, Kansas, Cal Bears lost to No.20 Virginia in the opening round before rebounding to beat host Kansas in come-from-behind fashion, winning thanks to the 4 singles victories from the 4 ranked players.

We shall see if a bottom of the lineup does have some depth issue (it’s way too early to say this for sure).

A familiar face in the sideline for the Bears this year is the return of Raquel (Kops-Jones) Atawo after her recent retirement from the WTA as a doubles specialist. The doubles pair of Bright and Giavara is already ranked 13th in the nation.

Bears will have some non-conference dual meets at UCLA and then Pepperdine (who ended the Bears’ season last year) before Pac-12 action starts in a month or so.