On the heels of a rained-out Tuesday match against San Francisco, the No. 11 Stanford men’s tennis team now faces a pair of marquee matchups as it heads into one of toughest and most important weekends of the season.
The Cardinal (14-5, 4-0 Pac-12) is taking a road trip down to Los Angeles to face No. 6 UCLA (18-2, 4-0) on Friday and No. 1 USC (23-0, 4-0) the next day. These pivotal matches mark the final stretch of the regular season as the inaugural Pac-12 Championship is less than two weeks away.
The last time Stanford met the two Southern California foes in early February, the Cardinal was swept by USC, 7-0, and then fell to UCLA, 6-1. The team was playing without star player Bradley Klahn in both of the losses, crippling both the singles and doubles lineups. The blowouts luckily did not count towards the team’s conference record, but losing on home court certainly fueled Cardinal in trying to redeem itself.
Since losing those two matches, Stanford has rebounded by winning critical games against tough opponents. A few weeks after the lopsided losses, the Cardinal defeated then-No. 6 Kentucky and then-No. 7 Baylor at the National Team Indoor Championships in February. Stanford then followed up the impressive showing with a dominant 6-1 win over then-No. 13 Cal.
But even with Klahn back on Stanford’s roster, winning any of the two upcoming matches will be no easy task for the Cardinal. UCLA has three singles players who are ranked in the national top 120, with senior Nick Meister leading the Bruins at No. 32. As for doubles play, the duo of Meister and sophomore Adrien Puget are ranked in the top 50.
USC will most likely prove to be even tougher to beat as the Trojans have been crowned the national champions the past three seasons and are carrying a 43-match winning streak. The fact that USC has three singles players ranked in the top 20 and five singles players in the top 60 is a testament to the team’s depth. Among the talent-loaded Trojans lineup is defending NCAA singles champion Steve Johnson, who is ranked second in the nation. Just as formidable is USC’s doubles lineup, which consists of three doubles teams that are ranked in the top 20 in the country.
Not to be outdone, Stanford currently boasts two top-50 singles players in No. 30 Ryan Thacher and No. 46 Bradley Klahn, who has been playing—and playing well—despite a lingering back injury. The Cardinal also appears in the national rankings in doubles play, with the duo of Klahn and Thacher ranked fifth while the team of Thacher and freshman John Morrissey, who stepped in for Klahn while he was injured, ranks in the top 60.
The Cardinal has been playing well recently, sweeping both Oregon and Washington in 7-0 victories last weekend as part of Pac-12 play.
With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s all the more important for the team to keep its conference record perfect. Victories over elite teams such as UCLA and USC are critical in providing the Cardinal with momentum for the postseason. The team’s overall performance down the stretch will certainly have major implications for its confidence heading into the Pac-12 Championship and eventually the NCAA tournament in early May.
The Cardinal will face the Bruins at 1:30 p.m. on Friday and then battle the Trojans at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.