The singles and doubles portion of the NCAA Championships once again proved to be an elusive prize for the Stanford men’s tennis team this weekend, with senior Bradley Klahn falling to eventual champion Steve Johnson of USC in the semifinal of the singles event and the duo of Klahn and fellow senior Ryan Thacher coming up just short in the doubles quarterfinal against Oklahoma’s Costin Paval and Dane Webb.
Going into the Round of 16 on Friday, Klahn—an at-large entrant into the tournament field—appeared to be peaking at just the right time on the same University of Georgia courts where he won the 2010 NCAA singles championship, having yet to drop a set and coming off of a upset of No. 4 Jarmere Jenkins of Virginia in the first round.
Playing against No. 10-seed Cole Buchanan of Ohio State on Friday, Klahn claimed the first set quickly and jumped out to a 3-0 lead with two break point opportunities in the second set.
Buchanan rallied, however, saving both break points en route to taking the second set, but Klahn adapted and rallied to clinch a hard-fought 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 victory.
Klahn’s quarterfinal test against No. 14-seed Nik Scholtz of Mississippi proved to be an easier affair. Scholtz, a freshman, had played three consecutive three-setters prior to Saturday’s contest, and his fatigue showed as Klahn claimed an emphatic 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Moving into the semifinals, Klahn was confronted—for the third time this year—by Johnson, the 2011 singles champion and holder of a 70-match win streak. Klahn and Johnson grew up together in Southern California and competed against each other countless times, and Klahn was the last player to beat Johnson more than 16 months ago.
On Sunday, however, Klahn struggled to threaten Johnson’s serve, with the two rivals staying on serve throughout the first set before Johnson broke Klahn in the tenth game to win the set 6-4. In the second set, Klahn and Johnson swapped breaks early on before going down to the wire again, but Johnson eventually came up with a second break to win out 6-4, 7-5.
Johnson would go on to repeat as NCAA singles national champion on Monday, beating No. 3-seed Eric Quigley of Kentucky 6-4, 6-4 in the final.
Klahn, meanwhile, concluded a standout Cardinal career—even with a senior campaign shortened by injury—with a 130-34 overall singles record, a 60-22 duals ledger, three All-American awards in both singles and doubles and one singles national championship in 2010.
In the doubles draw, Klahn and Thacher faced a dangerous Sweet 16 opponent Friday in No. 16-seed Henrique Cunha and Chris Mengel of Duke. The No.-4 seed Cardinal duo, who have won eight doubles titles together in their time on the Farm, hoped to improve on their 2011 performance—when they lost in the tournament final—and conclude their prolific pairing on a high note.
Cunha and Mengel showed themselves to be capable opponents, taking the first set on a 7-3 tiebreaker and jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second set. Klahn and Thacher rallied, however, and made consistent inroads into the Blue Devils’ serves en route to a 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2 victory.
In the quarterfinals, the Cardinal team faced No. 10-seed Paval and Webb, who had struggled to three-set victories in both of their earlier matches. The Sooners, however, made a quick start to the match, claiming the first set 7-5. Klahn and Thacher rallied to take the second set on a tiebreak, but had no response to an Oklahoma break in the third set as they succumbed to a 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-3 defeat.
Paval and Webb went on to lose in the semifinals against No. 1-seed and eventual champions Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola of Ohio State.
For both Klahn and Thacher, their exit from the tournament marks the conclusion of sterling Stanford careers, having led the Cardinal lineup through four successful individual and team seasons. For the Stanford men’s tennis program, the ability to effectively replace the graduating seniors remains the dominant question to be addressed before next year.