The Stanford men’s tennis team begins the final chapter of its season tomorrow when it plays its sweet sixteen match against the University of Kentucky. Held at the University of Georgia in Athens, tomorrow’s round of 16 will kick off the season-finale NCAA championship tournament.
Stanford (19-8, 5-2 Pac-12) is seeded No. 11 and will be the underdogs in its match against the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats (28-5, 11-0 SEC).
Friday’s match against Kentucky will be the second time the Cardinal and Wildcats have faced each other this season. Their first battle was on Feb. 19 in the consolation round of the National Team Indoor Championships. Stanford won that match 4-1 in what was arguably the team’s most impressive victory of the season.
Stanford will be coming into the match following two solid wins last weekend against Sacramento State and Santa Clara in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament held here on the Farm. Momentum has been a fickle thing for the Cardinal this year, with its longest winning streak lasting a mere four matches. Although its winning streaks may not be long, Stanford has only lost consecutive matches twice on the season, both times coming against top-ranked UCLA and USC.
One of the story lines this week will surely revolve around Cardinal senior Bradley Klahn, who will be returning to the same Athens courts where he won the 2010 NCAA singles championship. As was also the case back then, Stanford will be relying heavily on Klahn to anchor what has been a very unpredictable and constantly changing lineup cobbled together by head coach John Whitlinger.
Recent matches have shown Whitlinger flexible view on his team’s composition, as evidenced by the many different doubles matchups and singles orders that Whitlinger employs, including splitting up the potent doubles combo of Klahn and fellow senior Ryan Thacher, who finished as the runners-up in last years NCAA doubles championship.
As has been the case with several of Stanford’s matches lately, the back singles courts—beyond the stable top-three singles trio of Klahn, Thacher, and junior Matt Kandath—will undoubtedly prove pivotal in determining the success of the team. The three underclassmen that have been manning those back courts for Stanford—freshmen John Morrissey, Robert Stinemann and sophomore Daniel Ho—have all played like seasoned upperclassmen and have been steady winners, contributing to the team’s .580 winning percentage on the back courts this season.
The Stanford men’s tennis team is the most storied program in the history of college tennis, having won a record 18 national championships. The Cardinal’s success shows in its incredible 102-17 all-time record in the NCAA tournament.
In recent years, however, Stanford has uncharacteristically underachieved in the NCAAs. Last season’s quarterfinal was deepest the team has gone since 2006. The last time the Cardinal won the whole thing and took home the NCAA crown was back in 2000, twelve long years ago.
Tomorrow’s match against Kentucky will be a tough test for what has been an unpredictable Stanford team thus far this season. The Cardinal will square off against Kentucky at 1 p.m. PDT.