Vintage Tennis Ready to be Corked





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Like a fine wine that gets better with age, the Cal men's tennis team returns to competition this year with a full bottle of returning players.

After enjoying one of their best seasons in history, the No. 13 Bears return last year's team relatively intact, including six singles regulars and five doubles starters, going into the three-day collegiate individual Napa Valley Classic this weekend.

Cal is missing a big piece in No. 1 starter John Paul Fruttero, who is currently testing the professional waters and may still return in spring, depending upon his results on the pro circuit.

"We're planning on having him back," Cal coach Peter Wright said. "But it's more dependent on his results than anything else."

The remainder of the team will play, including Balazs Veress, last year's No. 2, Robert Kowalczyk, who partnered with Fruttero on the nation's No. 9 doubles team, and Wayne Wong, who led the team in wins last season with 24.

Cal will also have sophomores No. 82 Conor Niland of Ireland and Denmark's Mik Ledvonova back this year, though Ledvonova will not compete in the tournament, which begins Saturday, due to tendonitis in the right hand.

The Bears, who finished last year ranked No. 13 after losing in the NCAA regional final to No. 17 Duke, will face a pair of elite teams in No. 4 Illinois and No. 2 Georgia, last year's NCAA runner-up, as well as conference foe No. 65 Arizona from the Pac-10.

However, Cal looks forward to this weekend's tough slate.

"It's important to have a high level of competition early," Wright said. "It's an opportunity to see where we are at and how our guys are playing."

Cal and the Wildcats met twice last year in regular season play, with Cal beating Arizona both times, 6-1 and 5-2.

The Wildcats' top returner is No. 62 junior Whi Kim, who moved up 42 places from his final ranking of No. 104 last year.

The Bears last faced the Fighting Illini on Feb. 2, 2002 at the National Team Indoors.

Illinois defeated Cal 4-1 and went on to its eventual No. 4 national ranking. This season, the Fighting Illini showcase Amer Delic, ranked No. 12 in the country.

The last time the Bears played Georgia, in 2001, the Bulldogs won by a count of 4-0 .

Georgia features two ranked players this season, with Lesley Joseph improving from the 68th slot last season to No. 41 overall this year, and Bo Hodge jumping to No. 79 in the preseason polls after being unranked at the end of last season.

The Bears will look to their highest ranked player, No. 71 Veress, to fill the shoes of Fruttero as their top player this weekend.

As Cal's No. 2 player, Veress closed out the 2002 campaign with a 21-15 overall mark in singles competition and received honorable mention All-Pac-10.

While all competitions until Jan. 1, 2003 do not affect team standings, they do count towards players' individual standings for the NCAA tournament.

"These results can wind up coming up really big when the committee is making its picks in May," Wright said.

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