By Dylan Fugel
No words could sum up the elation that Stanford’s men’s tennis team felt at the close of the weekend’s play.
Instead, senior John Morrissey let out a guttural roar and slumped down on to the court on which he had just won one the biggest matches of his career. Then he disappeared inside a huge swarm of his teammates, who were all celebrating a sweep of the SoCal schools that put Stanford (15-4, 6-0 Pac-12) firmly in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 crown and represented the culmination of a year’s maturation for this young and talented team.
No. 15 fell, No. 5 fell, and amidst the rubble, No. 36 Stanford stood proud.
Stanford beats No. 5 USC for first time in 10 tries. John Morrissey clinches 4-3 win. Cardinal has won 9 in a row. pic.twitter.com/NT0a8NAuay
— StanfordMTennis (@StanfordTennis) April 12, 2015
The victories were all the more special considering the toil needed to achieve them. Two 4-3 victories over higher-ranked teams (No. 15 UCLA and No. 5 USC), three matches in which the Stanford player came from a set down to snatch victory and four ranked players beaten. The sweat will have felt sweet on Sunday at Taube Stadium.
Welcoming UCLA on Saturday, Stanford started off impressively, taking the doubles point fairly quickly thanks to wins from senior pairing Morrissey and Robert Stineman, who beat the No. 7 pairing of the Bruins’ Mackenzie McDonald and Martin Redlicki, 6-4. Junior Nolan Paige and freshman David Wilczynski then secured the point with a 6-4 victory over Dennis Mrktchian and Austin Rapp.
As it would again against USC, the doubles point turned out to be crucial as it allowed Stanford simply to split the singles matches in order to secure victory. Stanford’s doubles play this year has been nothing short of spectacular, as they are currently unbeaten in conference doubles play, with their main teams of Morrissey/Stineman, Paige/Wilczynski and Fawcett/Romanowicz combining to go 12-0.
Every time UCLA would pose them a question, Stanford would come back with an appropriate answer. Mrktchian knocked off Wilczynski 6-4, 6-4 at the three-spot, but No. 100 Morrissey responded with a straight-set (7-6 (3), 6-3) victory over No. 119 Redlicki. Karue Sell took a hard fought three-set victory (6-1, 3-6, 6-3) from Stineman, but Stanford did not bow. Freshman David Hsu, whose youth belies the fact that he currently sports a 5-0 record in Pac-12 play, won 7-5, 7-5 over Rapp to leave the scales precariously balanced at 3-2 to Stanford.
With a seven-game winning streak on the line, Paige valiantly fought back from a set down to beat Joseph di Giulio 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) and send a raucous Taube crowd into raptures. While Fawcett fell in a third-set tiebreaker to No. 4 McDonald, the talented frosh could take solace both in his performance and the team’s huge victory.
That was not the end of the festivities, however. No. 5 USC came to town just in time for Cardinalpalooza on Saturday, and luckily for Stanford, they received a hostile welcome despite the food trucks and the balloons. Behind another loud crowd at Taube, Stanford came out strong and took the doubles point in comfortable fashion, sweeping it thanks to wins from Paige/Wilczynski and Fawcett/Romanowicz. At this point, the noise only intensified and the match took on a big-fight feel. An upset was in the air, but it would still require immense fortitude from the Stanford team in order to secure it.
In what was becoming an eerie funhouse mirror replica of the UCLA game, singles play opened with a setback as Paige fell 6-4, 6-4 to No. 75 Max de Vroome. It was at this point that momentum seemed to be tilting in the Trojans’ favor, given that Fawcett, Morrissey and Wilczynski had all lost their first sets. It fell on Hsu in the six-spot to stem the tide, which he did with aplomb. Behind a flurry of punishing forehands, he eked out a tighter-than-it-would-seem 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 86 Nick Crystal, giving Stanford the 2-1 lead.
After Jonny Wang took out Stineman in three sets (2-6, 6-2, 6-2), the match was perched finely on the precipice. Above the players, the Taube crowd seemed to be willing the ball between the lines, bodies and faces contorting with every point.
Courts 1, 2 and 3, all locked in their third sets, were all that stood between Stanford and the eventual jubilation they would have. Throughout his match, No. 41 Fawcett would exhort himself, repeatedly saying, “This is me!” or “My time!” as he battled his second top-10 player of the weekend, No. 6 Yannick Hanfmann. How right he was, as he battled back to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, after pressuring Hanfmann into a lot of unforced forehand errors and dominating their baseline exchanges.
The drama had only just begun. Despite a thrilling comeback and drawing upon his vast reserves of energy, Wilczynski fell short, losing 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to No. 123 Eric Johnson.
So it all fell to Morrissey. With both teams looking on from the adjacent court, no more than 20 feet away, the native Dubliner and his opponent, No. 19 Roberto Quiroz, were locked in a titanic clash. In a sea of constant noise — ask Taube’s patrons how often Romanowicz yells, “You got this, JMo” — Morrissey fed off the crowd’s energy, charging to the net and across the baseline, making Quiroz work for every single point.
“I started playing more aggressive tennis and really went after my serve,” said Morrissey. “I just wanted to keep the points short, stay and aggressive and do more with the serve and volley. This was a great match and the whole weekend was just phenomenal.”
That aggressive tennis paid off as Stanford, and Morrissey’s pitbull-like determination ended with Quiroz pushing a forehand long and wide, giving Morrissey a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory that sealed a frankly incredible weekend of tennis.
Taube collectively let out an exhale that turned immediately into elated cheering and Morrissey was left to be absorbed inside the giant dogpile that enveloped Court 2. The win put Stanford in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12, but arguably more importantly, it acted as a confirmation that this Stanford team, with its potent mix of freshmen and seniors, has been maturing and growing all year. A nine-game win streak is testament to that fact. The analysis will come later for the team, though. For now, they can celebrate a magical weekend sweep.
Stanford will look to continue their stellar play in a non-conference match-up against USF before attempting to secure the conference title against Cal this Saturday at Taube.
Contact Dylan Fugel at dfugel ‘at’ stanford.edu.