It’s 9:30 a.m. on a cool Thursday morning, and Bradley Klahn is setting out traffic cones on a tennis court.
“My serve’s been such a rollercoaster lately,” he says, placing 10 cones from left to right across the service line, five in each box.
Klahn, the 2010 NCAA men’s singles tennis champion and the number one player on the Stanford men’s tennis team, is preparing for the upcoming NCAA championship next week.
His third serve smacks the red cone in the left service box, knocking it off the court.
“The problem with the big cones is, if I hit the top of them, the serve’s going out,” he says.
The senior from Poway, Calif., is used to balancing his prodigious tennis career and school, but now, it’s all tennis, all the time. Six feet tall, dressed from head to toe in red and black dri-fit, the economics major graduated from school in the winter and now spends his days preparing for the final hurrah of his college career—and the beginning of his budding professional career.
The lefty pulls a serve and smacks a cone in the wrong service box.
“Aw, that doesn’t count.”
Now, the only thing on Klahn’s schedule is to play tennis, practice tennis, work out and rehab—sometimes for 12 hours a day. Most days, he rises at 6:30 and goes to bed before 11.
“Without any schoolwork, I go to bed a lot earlier. Trying to get on a more professional routine, I guess.”
He finds his rhythm when he switches to the other side of the baseline, hitting three cones in rapid succession.
“Target practice,” he says.
This year’s NCAA title is in Athens, Ga., the site of Klahn’s 2010 singles win, where he crushed Louisville’s Austin Childs, 6-1, 6-2, in the final to capture a championship ring. Those memories—and his memories after from the 2011 NCAA tournament in front of a rowdy home crowd at Stanford—drive him to wake up and hit ball after ball every morning.
“The [2011 quarterfinal] match against Texas A&M was a wild one…that was fun. [The semifinal match against] Virginia was fun too. Virginia was the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen, let alone been a part of.”
“And I can’t say I’ve got bad memories [about Athens] after winning there,” he adds.
However, if Klahn hopes to add a championship coda to his days at Stanford, he’ll have to overcome his two nemeses this season: USC and a balky back.
The Trojans have won three consecutive team titles behind the powerful play of senior Steve Johnson, last year’s NCAA singles champion, who is riding a 60-match winning streak coming into the tournament.
“He’s been a lock. They’re always starting 2-0 in every match, or at least 1-0,” Klahn says. The No. 1 Trojans also captured the Pac-12 title this year and blanked the Cardinal 7-0, 7-0 and 4-0 in their three matchups this season.
Klahn also still battles the effects of a herniated disc in his back, an injury that forced him out of competition for half the school year and still affects his mobility and strength, he says. He takes the time to stretch his back during every pause in his practice schedule.
“I had the same injury that [Orlando Magic forward] Dwight Howard has,” he says. “It’s just stiff, more than anything else. The surgical site was painful right after, but the hardest thing for a while was just getting in and out of bed.”
After finishing his morning session of serves, Klahn gets a necessary back massage, eats lunch and returns to the Taube Tennis Center courts to hit with assistant coach Brandon Coupe.
A light drizzle forces the two of them to the underground indoor court the team refers to as “the dungeon,” where Coupe gives Klahn pointers on his backhand and volleys. Coupe’s strokes are short and direct when compared to Klahn’s nimble, smooth backhands—Coupe is leathered from 10 years spent on the professional tennis tour. He gives Klahn tips that will serve him well when he moves along to the professional ranks right after graduation.
Klahn will train in Carson, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, after his time at Stanford is up and could possibly begin playing in professional events as early as June 2, at the Sacramento USTA Futures tour event—a step below the ATP tour of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
“It kind of depends on how I feel depending on where my fitness is. But really, I haven’t planned it out too far in advance,” he confesses.
The bigger question, he says, comes down the road, when he’ll need sponsors to help him jumpstart his pro career.
“I haven’t had any agent interest so far. I don’t know if people will sign me or not,” he says. “I’d obviously like to sign with an agent; it’d be cool, and they can help out with deals and money and stuff, but I’m sure any agent is going to have their reservations about signing a guy who had back surgery. I hope not, though, because I feel healthy; I feel good. It’s definitely better than it was.”
For now, though, Klahn’s first concern is ending his college career on the right note. He feels the pressure of being a senior team captain in his last NCAA tournament.
That’s the real reason he gets up in the morning to hit serves, hits with Coupe after lunch, goes to the regularly scheduled practice with the rest of them team, then works out, then rehabs.
He’ll do the same thing again on Friday, and Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday. All tennis, all the time.
Just a normal day in the life of Bradley Klahn: not quite student-athlete, not quite a professional.