No. 22 Stanford men’s tennis (5-4) suffered a nail-biting 4-3 loss to archrival No. 18 Cal (5-1) in a battle of wills that kept a large crowd enthralled for four hours at Taube Tennis Stadium on Saturday.
Cal dealt Stanford its third consecutive loss, as well as Stanford’s third loss by a 4-3 margin of the season. For their part, the Golden Bears extended their current winning streak to five matches, including a win over No. 2 TCU on Feb. 7. Cal’s victory over Stanford on Saturday does not factor into the Pac-12 standings, however. The rematch on April 16 at Berkeley will count for the Pac-12.
“We have a team that wants to be good so badly,” said head coach Paul Goldstein after the loss. “I love that and I respect that, but we let how much we want to win impact how we execute. It’s a challenge.”
On Saturday, Stanford kept Cal on the ropes until Cal senior Mads Engsted clinched a nail-biting victory 7-6 (1), 3-6, 7-5, over freshman Michael Genender in the deciding match on Court 6. The dual match was a relentless battle for momentum; each time Cal surged ahead, Stanford rallied to keep its hopes alive.
Cal took the lead first, as doubles kicked off the highly anticipated Big Slam. On Court 2, senior Nolan Paige and sophomore David Wilczynski quickly found themselves in a 2-5 hole before they surged back, winning the next 5 games to clinch the match 7-5. The comeback on Court 2 electrified Stanford fans, who alternated between cheering and holding their breath as the matches on Courts 1 and 3 remained nail-bitingly close.
On Court 1, senior Maciek Romanowicz and sophomore Tom Fawcett were locked in a match that stayed on serve until Romanowicz served at 5-6. Romanowicz and Fawcett fended off two match points, but a double fault from Romanowicz resulted in Cal’s first doubles win (7-5).
The deciding match for the doubles point, on Court 3, prolonged the drama for as long as humanly possible. Cal double-faulted on its first match point at 5-4. Freshman Sameer Kumar and junior Yale Goldberg pushed the set to a tiebreaker, but could not convert two match points of their own. The tiebreaker ended in Cal’s favor at 10-8.
Although Cal clinched the critical doubles point, Stanford maintained its determination as singles play got underway.
“You just have to reset and make it like the match just starts again,” Fawcett said.
On Court 4, Cal’s Filip Bergevi dealt freshman Sameer Kumar a 6-4, 6-2 loss, marking Kumar’s first career loss in a dual match. Next, Cal’s Billy Griffith climbed back from a 2-5 hole in the first set and defeated Paige 7-5, 6-4 on Court 3, extending Cal’s team point lead to 3-0 and leaving the Bears just one match victory away from victory.
Cal’s advantage was formidable, but Fawcett and Wilczynski were keeping Stanford’s hopes alive on Courts 1 and 2, respectively.
Wilczynski, ranked 90th nationally, notched Stanford’s first singles win (6-4, 6-4) over No. 36 Florian Lakat of Cal.
Fawcett, who jumped to No. 3 in the national rankings this month, dominated 6-1 in the first set against fourth-ranked Andre Goransson. Fawcett and Goransson each claimed one win in their two matchups against each other last season, and Goransson revived their history of close competition as he claimed the second set in an 8-6 tiebreaker.
While Fawcett found himself gearing up for an exhausting third set, Romanowicz made sure a Stanford victory remained possible.
On Court 5, Romanowicz (ranked 106th) imposed his will on No. 63 Oskar Wikberg of Cal to take the third set 6-1. Romanowicz’s win closed Cal’s lead to 3-2, but Stanford’s path to victory remained difficult. To stop the Golden Bears, the Cardinal needed to pull off victories in the third sets on both Courts 1 and 6.
Fawcett stayed mentally tough and prevailed 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-4.
“I was really happy with how I forgot about what was happening [in the second set],” Fawcett said. “I didn’t let the past affect me.”
Fawcett extended his undefeated record this season to 8-0, as well as his career record in third-set matches to 7-1.
“Tom’s been a warrior,” Goldstein said. “I am most pleased, as a coach, that he [was able to] keep his composure and find a way to be successful.”
Once Fawcett finished on the marquee first court, the crowd abandoned its stadium seats and rushed to the rear of Taube Tennis Stadium for the deciding third set on Court 6.
Tied at 3-3, the Battle of the Bay boiled down to a suspenseful contest between Cal veteran Engsted, a senior, and the talented Stanford freshman Genender.
Genender, ranked 119th nationally, had rallied after losing the first set 7-6 (1). After winning the second set 6-3, Genender jumped to a 2-0 lead in the third set. Engsted then staged a comeback of his own, winning five games in a row to stand on the precipice of victory at 5-2.
Genender, early in his freshman year on the Farm, found himself in one the highest-pressure situations possible for a Stanford athlete, as all eyes — and some trash talk — focused on him.
With the Cal and Stanford squads gathered courtside, Genender fended off a three match points and tied the third set at 5-5. Engsted held his serve to take the lead at 6-5. Serving at 30-all, Genender double-faulted to allow Engsted his fourth match point. The following point, Genender’s backhand struck the top of the net, and Cal edged Stanford.
Despite the loss, Goldstein said that Genender showed improvement in his ability to focus amid the “chaos” of dual matches.
“It’s very difficult to be in the last match as a freshman,” Goldstein said. “When you get to that point, because of the tension, it’s about who can manage their emotions best.”
Stanford next hosts No. 9 USC on Friday at 3 p.m. in both teams’ first Pac-12 match of the season.
Contact Alexa Corse at corsea ‘at’ stanford.edu.