On a campus defined by greatness, few places have seen more of it than the Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
Thirty-five of Stanford’s 120 national championships belong to its men’s and women’s tennis teams; few programs in college athletics have been comparatively dominant over the years. But when I say “greatness,” I’m also talking about the entertainment value of spending an afternoon at Taube watching team tennis at its finest.
I was an athletic department volunteer in 2011 when Stanford hosted a combined men’s-and-women’s national championship at Taube. I’ll always remember when Dick Gould, the storied former head coach of 38 years and currently the John L. Hinds Director of Tennis, came into the media room after a tough Stanford loss, thanked everyone for being there and said, “There’s nothing like team tennis.”
There are few spectacles in sports like those of team tennis: three matches taking place in parallel, each one with the same point value—regardless of the players’ prominence—all unfolding within the spectator’s view. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to watch just one match at a time when there are three balls whizzing back and forth, three chair umpires announcing scores and three crowds cheering in turn. And during the singles portion, another three matches are being played just over the fence.
It’s all taking place at one of the finest collegiate tennis venues in the nation: a 3,500-seat mammoth big enough that it can host a women’s pro tour event every summer. But just like any other bully, Taube has a bit of an attendance problem.
Last Friday, I returned for what was admittedly my first match at Taube in nearly two years. I was there to interview senior tennis player Stacey Tan and women’s head coach Lele Forood after that day’s match against Washington as part of an upcoming feature series in The Daily on Stanford women’s sports. (Stay tuned for it during the first two weeks of spring quarter.)
The first person I saw as I came up the stairs was Gould, the esteemed face of Stanford tennis, who was coordinating a loyalty point system for students. Just for swiping my ID, I was on track to getting free shirts and unused team gear, and alas, the next morning I had an email in my inbox from Gould detailing the program and the next week’s matches.
Gould greets students he’s never met, thanking them for coming to watch, and he chats extensively with the regulars in the south seating area. But even with such a friendly face in the crowd, such a popular sport being played and on such a nice afternoon to watch it, only about 100 fans had showed up.
Having won the doubles point, the No. 21 Cardinal also took its first five singles matches against the Huskies with relative ease. The attention shifted to court six, where the teams’ weakest players were still duking it out.
Cardinal freshman Lindsey Kostas had won her first set against Husky sophomore Riko Shimizu 7-5, but she was trailing 3-0 in the second. Yet she battled back, long rally after long rally, to snag a 5-4 lead.
With the match—already decided in favor of Stanford by this point—running almost two hours later than normal and the wind picking up, the crowd was reduced to maybe six of us. It felt like every long point and every multi-ad game was there just to eat up my Friday afternoon and freeze me to death. Both teams huddled in swimmer’s parkas on the adjacent court.
But then something very strange happened. At one of the changeovers between games, a fan sitting alone got up and shouted to the shivering Stanford players.
“Ok, I say ‘Go,’ you say ‘Stanford!’ Ready?”
The players seemed to giggle to themselves for a moment, but evidently they had done this before and they quickly obliged. And so the players and fans—myself excluded, as I was there on media business—chanted back and forth, willing some warmth into their lungs and some energy into the two remaining competitors.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen players and fans interact like that, in any sport or on any stage. All of a sudden, the chaos and competitiveness of team tennis gave way to the calm of a recreational match at a cabana club—of course, with slightly better players.
At the next changeover it was “I say ‘Go,’ you say ‘Lindsey!’” And go Lindsey did, winning her match 7-5, 7-5.
In the clubhouse 20 minutes later, Forood explained how difficult it is to draw crowds in the bustling Bay Area. She urged people to come watch the “very high-level tennis” that Taube hosts week-in and week-out.
I understand that no sport is for everyone, and that if I hadn’t played tennis my entire life I wouldn’t fully appreciate Taube’s nonstop action. But heck, where else in the world can you attend a free event, get into chants with future professional players, connect with one the most famed ambassadors in the history of tennis and earn free gear in the process?
All of it, the whole Taube experience, exudes one thing: greatness. And it’s time people stopped missing out on it.
Joseph Beyda needs company at the next tennis game. Make it a date at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.