The No. 11 Stanford men’s tennis team booked its ticket to Georgia for the Sweet Sixteen of the season-ending NCAA tournament this past weekend with two wins on its home court at the Taube Family Tennis Center. The Cardinal defeated Sacramento State 4-0 on Saturday afternoon in the first round and beat Santa Clara 4-1 in Sunday’s second round.
Because they were held on campus, the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament evoked painful memories of last year’s Sweet Sixteen loss to No. 1 Virginia at Taube, but these two solid victories surely helped to push those old memories out of mind. They were both complete wins, showing off the depth and quality of the ever-changing Stanford lineup.
The Cardinal dominated Saturday’s win from beginning to end in the kind of easy victory that has been a foreign quantity to the team as of late. The doubles tandems of Dennis Lin and Ryan Thacher and Bradley Klahn and John Morrissey each crushed their Hornets opponents 8-1, securing the crucial first point of the match.
Singles play featured a lot of the same one-sidedness. The three singles matches that ended up counting had a cumulative final score of 36 games for Stanford to just four for Sacramento State. A good deal of momentum was built in Saturday’s dominant first-round win heading into Sunday’s matchup against the upstart Santa Clara Broncos.
Santa Clara, seeded No. 39 and appearing in its first NCAA tournament, upset higher seeded Texas on Saturday and charged into its second-round match against Stanford with a large following of boisterous crowd support. In Sunday’s match, the Stanford crowd was given the challenge of matching the flock of Broncos supporters.
“The crowd was huge today,” said sophomore Daniel Ho. “Since Santa Clara brought a decent crowd themselves it was very important for us to match them in cheering…At one point in doubles, we actually missed a shot but the crowd was so loud that the ref was intimidated and overruled the Santa Clara call.”
Every single point in the three doubles matches proved pivotal, as the matches were incredibly close. The team of Lin and Thacher fell 8-6 in the first doubles match, which was soon canceled out by Klahn and Morrissey’s 9-7 win on court two, putting the pressure of the first point on the shoulders of sophomore Jamin Ball and freshman Robert Stinemann. The two underclassmen came up clutch in a tight, back-and-forth match, ultimately winning 9-8 in a tiebreaker to give Stanford momentum and a 1-0 advantage heading into singles play.
“[The doubles win] was definitely crucial,” Ho said. “Santa Clara came out with a lot of energy. Winning the first point shut them down and gave us energy to go out in the singles and get off to a good start.”
Singles play did indeed get off to a good start for Stanford, behind straight-set wins on courts one and five from Klahn and Ho that put the Cardinal on the brink of victory. After a loss by Thacher on court two, freshman John Morrissey closed out the match with a three-set victory on court four to send Stanford to Georgia to compete for its 18th NCAA championship.
Ho, for one, thinks that the Cardinal is ready for all the competition that awaits in the final four rounds of the NCAA tournament.
“I think tennis-wise we are pretty well prepared. We just have to try to stay focused on the goal,” he said.
For Stanford tennis, that goal invariably is an NCAA championship. The Cardinal is now in position to compete for that goal, starting at 1 p.m. PDT on Friday against No. 6 Kentucky.