No. 41 Stanford men’s tennis (7-3) pulled the upset of its young season on Tuesday, beating Cal (9-2) in a 4-3 thriller at Taube Tennis Center. Strong singles play and a back-and-forth, three-set clincher from sophomore Michael Genender proved just enough for the Cardinal to slip by the Golden Bears.
After dropping hard-fought losses on the road against No. 14 USC and No. 13 UCLA, Stanford returned to the Farm in the midst of its toughest stretch of the season to face No. 6 UC Berkeley. Though Cal has been among the nation’s best teams in the last couple of years, the Cardinal have found a way to produce their best tennis against their biggest rival; two of the teams’ last three meetings ended in 4-3 scores either way.
Stanford fell behind early, failing to capitalize on the momentum of back-to-back doubles wins against USC and UCLA. Cal’s hard-serving duo of Filip Bergevi and Florian Lakat – the No. 1 doubles team in the country – got off to a quick start by dispatching Tom Fawcett and William Genesen 6-4. Cal would soon after clinch the point with a 7-5 victory on Court Two.
Losing the ever-important doubles point would present Stanford with a significant challenge in singles play, as the Bears boast one of the deepest lineups in the country with four ranked players. However, the score was quickly evened at one apiece after sophomore Sameer Kumar stunned No. 30 Andre Goransson 6-3, 6-1 on Court 2. The teams traded wins at the No. 4 and 5 spots to make the score 2-2.
On Court 1, Cardinal No. 13 Tom Fawcett and No. 14 Florian Lakat were locked in an exchange of big serves and forehands, with Fawcett taking the first set 7-6(5). On serve at 5-4 in the second, Fawcett found a way to break serve for the match, putting Stanford on the brink of the monumental upset. Moments later though, the battle of Bay Area products J.T. Nishimura and Brandon Sutter would come to an end at the No. 6 spot, with Cal’s Nishimura prevailing in three sets to even the score again at three.
The dual would come down to the third set on Court Three between Stanford sophomore Michael Genender and senior Filip Bergevi, who was playing in his first match in two weeks after an injury.
It was an eerily familiar position for Genender: In last year’s rendition of the Big Slam, the freshman was the last on court with the tides of the match falling on his shoulders. After a tense back-and-forth with then-senior Mads Engsted, Genender fell in a 7-5 heartbreaker.
This time, the third set would be even tighter as Genender and Bergevi exchanged holds of serve to head to a tiebreaker. After both players saved multiple match points, Genender would finally close out the breaker and match 11-9, ending the most nail-biting match in recent history for the Cardinal in a victory.
The win was arguably Stanford’s biggest since 2015, when the then 39th-ranked Cardinal topped No. 14 Cal in a similar 4-3 outcome. The team will have little time to celebrate its win, however, as it hosts No. 8 Texas and No. 31 TCU this weekend at Taube.
Contact Neel Ramachandran at neelr ‘at’ stanford.edu.