April 25, 2013
By Dean Caparaz '90
(Originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly.)
Riki and Ben McLachlan spent most of their childhood playing tennis against each other, and they grew tired of it.
The sons of Yuriko - a Japanese immigrant - and Craig McLachlan, the brothers grew up in Queenstown, a resort area of New Zealand. They participated in a variety of sports, including rugby, basketball, swimming, golf, cricket and tennis, which they began playing at around ages 7 and 8. The burgeoning talents focused more exclusively on tennis at roughly 13 and 14.
As the only good tennis players of their generation around, they were forced to work out together.
"We never really got the chance to practice with a lot of people; it was just me and Riki all the time," Ben said. "We'd practice against each other every day. You'd get kind of sick of it."
The siblings finally got the opportunity to hit with different players several years later when both joined the Cal men's tennis team. Ben McLachlan, who turns 21 in May, is a junior. They have been mainstays on Cal's perennial postseason contender since they joined the Bears.
"Riki and Ben bring so many positive qualities to the team," Wright said. "Riki's maturity and leadership stand out, as well as his positive attitude and incredible play during critical moments. Ben has grown incredibly during his time at Cal. He's always been an incredible athlete, but adding discipline to his game has made the difference. He has developed into one of the top players in the USA."
As fate would have it, they were coached in their formative years by former Cal tennis assistant coach Lan Bale - a one-time professional tennis player who moved to Queenstown after his stint in Berkeley ended.
The McLachlans learned that college tennis would give them another way to continue playing beyond what they could ac-complish in Queenstown.
"If you don't go pro, there are no opportunities in tennis in New Zealand," Ben said. "To play tennis in college in the States, it's a great opportunity to get an education and play a high level of tennis. It was just perfect for us to come here."
The brothers did their research on Cal and other schools. Riki considered Boise State and Louisville among others before joining Wright's team in 2009. Bringing Ben to Berkeley was not a done deal; he considered playing for Texas. But after visiting Cal, his brother and the rest of the team, Ben followed his heart and signed with the Bears.
Ben is currently the Golden Bears' top singles player, and, as of March 12, was ranked No. 57 nationally by the ITA. In 2012, he was an All-Pac-12 second-team selection, and last fall, he captured the singles title at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships.
"It's been really good," Ben said of his Cal career. "Coming into college I knew I had a lot of growing to do through my tennis. I think the last two years I've been improving a lot, constantly."
Riki is a Cal co-captain, and his leadership was on full display on Jan. 26 against then-No. 20 Michigan. Hosting an ITA Kick-Off Weekend event at the Hellman Tennis Complex, Cal vied with the Wolverines for the title that would send the Bears to the prestigious ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship. With the overall match tied at 3-3, the result came down to Riki's match on court five. After losing the first set, Riki surged back to win the match, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, and clinch Cal's trip to nationals.
The brothers' natural chemistry made them one of the top doubles teams in the nation, and that also led to the doubles title at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships. Earlier this season, the ITA ranked the tandem as high as No. 7 - but then an early February leg injury sidelined Riki. As of March 12, the ITA still ranked the brothers' doubles team at No. 42, even though Riki hadn't played since Feb. 8.
While Ben has since paired with other doubles partners, Riki faces the possibility that his college career is over. The team hopes to have him back for the postseason, and Riki spends two to three hours a day rehabbing the injury. He still comes to practice "to show he's not going to fade away," Wright said.
"Riki's injury has been a tremendous shock to the team," Wright added. "It's a horrible way to finish his collegiate career. But it has also inspired our guys to reach higher. Riki has been there every step of the way for us, cheering on the guys and being an incredibly positive influence. Not one moment has he felt sorry for himself. He wants our guys to win, and he's our most inspirational voice on the sidelines."
Prior to the injury, the brothers earned an extra visit home when Cal took its team to New Zealand for a training trip during the January 2013 winter break. Ben and Riki turned tour guide for their teammates, as did their father, a hiking guide in Queenstown. The Bears took part in a myriad of activities, including jet boating, bungee jumping and climbing the Remarkables, a mountain range near the McLachlans' hometown.
"That was just incredible," Riki said. "I've always talked about my hometown and my home country. It was really cool to be able to show it off."
Once back in Berkeley, Cal had a good start to the dual-match season, including an upset of then-No. 4 Duke on March 10 at home. The Bears earned a No. 24 ITA ranking as of the end of March.
After this season, the McLachlans' paths will diverge for perhaps the first time. Ben has his senior season and then possibly the pro game to look forward to, whereas, Riki- who will graduate at the end of the spring semester - wants to pursue coaching.
On Ben, Wright said, "Ben has always had special talents in tennis. This has, at times, created unrealistic expectations in terms of the timing of his development. His time in college has been good for him. He has grown each year in terms of his understanding of the game and his maturity. He has a very positive future in terms of professional tennis and in terms of representing New Zealand. If he is able to stay injury free, I think he'll be No. 1 in New Zealand in the next few years."
On Riki's future, Wright remarked, "He has always been a smart player, and I think he will have a lot to contribute as a coach. He is well liked and well respected by his peers for his intelligence and competitiveness, and that goes a long way in terms of being able to help develop players in the future."
Whatever the future brings, Riki McLachlan has enjoyed his ride at Cal.
"It's been just incredible," he said. "Everything has been amazing, the way you get treated, getting to play tennis, getting to travel, and the academics are just incredible here. Just being around the kind of great people we have has made it a lot of fun here."