The No. 11 seed Stanford men’s tennis team will hope to capitalize on its home-court advantage and two weeks of focused preparation this weekend as the squad enters the opening stages of the season-ending NCAA tournament. The Cardinal hosts Sacramento State on Saturday and, if victorious, will square off against either Texas or Santa Clara on Sunday.
“The NCAAs are an exciting time for our team and we have had a good two weeks of practice to fully prepare ourselves for the tournament,” said senior Bradley Klahn. “The break in the schedule has allowed us to fully recover from injuries and make strides in our fitness and games to be at our peak form.”
The Cardinal (17-8, 5-2 Pac-12) will be heavily favored in its opening matchup against Sacramento State (11-12), which advanced to the NCAAs for the ninth time in its history as the winner of the Big Sky Conference. When the two teams last met in January 2011, the Cardinal swept the Hornets; however, lineup changes in the Hornets’ squad and the heightened tensions of postseason tennis means nothing is guaranteed.
“Every match from here on out is difficult and will challenge us to be at our best,” Klahn said. “There’s no overlooking any opponent, especially ones we are not familiar with. Every team is deserving of its tournament bid and will be fighting just as hard as we are to keep the season alive.”
As a top-16 seed, the Cardinal’s first two matches will be held at the Taube Family Tennis Center before the tournament moves to Athens, Ga., for later rounds. Playing at home in the NCAA tournament last year, the Cardinal marched to the quarterfinals before falling in a 4-3 defeat to eventual finalist Virginia.
“Home court advantage is huge in these first two rounds,” Klahn said. “Last year, the home crowd was incredible and really provided an electric atmosphere for our team to thrive in. Being comfortable on our own courts and in our natural surroundings will help us perform our best.”
Facing the Hornets will also give the Cardinal the opportunity to return to its winning ways, after its run in the inaugural Pac-12 tournament was abruptly terminated in a 4-0 defeat at the hands of No. 1 seed USC.
Looking beyond the Sacramento State matchup, Santa Clara is familiar for Stanford, as the Cardinal triumphed over the Broncos 6-1 in late January. Texas, however, would provide more uncertainty—and perhaps a stiffer test—for the Cardinal, as the two teams have not met since early 2009.
In either case, the Cardinal—led by Klahn and fellow senior Ryan Thacher—will hope to use the two seniors’ accumulated postseason experience to peak under the pressure of postseason play.
“At this point in the season, the most important match is our next match,” Klahn noted. “There is no opportunity to look past the next opponent because it is win or go home. That scenario certainly adds an extra spark as we are fighting to keep our season going. The intensity and focus is higher, but it is still another match and we won’t adjust the way we approach it or play.”
For Klahn and Thacher, the NCAAs also offer the chance to finish their already-sterling Stanford careers on a high note. The seniors have excelled on the individual and team fronts, collecting eight doubles titles together while leading the Cardinal to three straight postseason appearances. Klahn also collected the highest individual honor in college tennis in 2010 when he won the NCAA singles championship.
“This is a special time of year, and the excitement around the tournament is unrivaled,” Klahn said. “That said, I’m anxious for the tournament to begin…I want to finish my final postseason, win or lose, with no regrets and be able to look back five to 10 years from now knowing I left everything out on the court for my team and have great memories about the tournament.”
Given the Cardinal’s strong record, postseason experience and senior leadership, Klahn also expressed confidence in the team’s ability to go deep into the postseason.
“Our team has a great opportunity this May to put all the hard work we have done over the last nine months into action,” Klahn said. “The only thing we can do is spill our guts out onto the court for one another and battle, and if we do that, I think this team is capable of anything.”
The Cardinal will square off against Sacramento State at noon on Saturday at the Taube Family Tennis Center.