By Fiona Noonan
The Big Slam is upon Stanford tennis. This Saturday, both Cardinal squads will close out their regular seasons against conference powerhouse Cal in matches that will be critical going into next week’s Pac-12 Tournament.
The No. 37 Stanford men (13-4, 4-2 Pac-12) will travel across the Bay to take on the No. 16 Bears (14-5, 4-2 Pac-12) for Cal’s Senior Day at the Hellman Tennis Complex, where the Golden Bears will recognize seniors Campbell Johnson and No. 56 singles player Ben McLachlan.
The Cardinal will look to avenge a 7-0 loss in February at home, which was not considered a conference match.
The men’s team has been on a hot streak recently, winning its last four matches in a row, including Tuesday’s 4-0 victory over St. Mary’s. Although the Card have stayed strong at home with a 8-1 record, going on the road has been more challenging this season, especially against opponents ranked in the top 20 nationally.
That being said, Stanford could be peaking at the right time. The team has climbed 15 spots in the ITA Division I rankings in the past two weeks, and has showed no signs of slowing down against its Pac-12 competition, including in recent big wins over No. 44 Oregon and Washington.
The Cardinal will be relying on top singles players John Morrissey and Daniel Ho against McLachlan and Johnson. In the two schools’ last meeting, McLachlan narrowly defeated Morrissey in a tiebreak, and Ho put up a strong fight before ultimately falling to Johnson.
On the women’s side, the stakes are even higher. If No. 10 Cal (16-4, 9-0 Pac-12) wins, they will be the Pac-12 champions and receive an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament. If No. 5 Stanford (16-1, 8-1 Pac-12) takes the match, they will end the regular season with only a loss to No. 2 UCLA, and could be the conference champions if the Bruins lose to rival No. 12 USC this weekend.
The last time Stanford and Cal met was in March in Berkeley, where the Cardinal held on for a 5-2 win in an intense matchup that included rare straight-set losses by freshman Taylor Davidson and sophomore Krista Hardebeck.
After easily sweeping past Oregon and No. 45 Washington State last weekend, the women will have to recalibrate for a much harder opponent in Cal, which has now won 10 matches in a row after also cruising past those two squads. Assuming the Bears take care of Sacramento State on Thursday, they will ride an 11-match winning streak into Taube Family Tennis Center on Saturday.
For their part, the Cardinal have been nearly perfect at home this year, including wins against perennial powerhouses Florida and USC, and are capable of continuing their home-court success against Cal.
No. 4 senior Kristie Ahn should also be back in the rotation this weekend after sitting out against Oregon and only playing doubles against WSU. She’ll reclaim her spot on court one, where she’s dominated all year to the tune of a team-best 25-3 record.
She’ll also be teaming up with freshman Carol Zhao, ranked No. 19, on the top doubles court, where the pair has yet to lose a conference match.
Zhao is another force to be reckoned with for the Cardinal. The freshman from Ontario, Canada is 8-0 in Pac-12 singles matches, and has been unstoppable against top-ranked competition. This Tuesday, her efforts were rewarded as she rose another three spots in the national singles rankings.
The Bears will come out hungry on Saturday in pursuit of the Pac-12 title, but as the last team to have beaten Cal this season, the Cardinal are well prepared to come out on top in the Big Slam.
The No. 37 Stanford men’s tennis team faces No. 16 Cal at Berkeley at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The No. 5 women’s squad will take on the No. 10 Bears at the Taube Family Tennis Center at noon the same day.