By Evan Burke
This weekend, No. 37 Stanford men’s tennis (5-6) will travel to La Jolla, California to both play in the Pacific Coast Doubles Tournament and take on No. 30 Rice, while the No. 20 women’s team (5-2) looks to extend its winning streak against Arizona and Arizona State.
The two teams have been following opposite trajectories as of late: The Stanford men have lost their last five matches after a 5-1 start to the season, while the women have not lost in over a month, rallying from their program’s first-ever sub-.500 record and sweeping a February homestand.
After tough losses to Southern California rivals USC and UCLA, both top 10 in the country, as well as other highly-ranked opponents, the men’s team must find a way to turn its season around ahead of opening Pac-12 play. Their first opportunity to rebound is against No. 30 Rice (12-3). The Owls appear to have struggled with consistency at times, picking up a 4-3 win against then-No. 30 LSU but being shut out in their most recent match against lower-ranked San Diego. Nevertheless, they are a good team who will present yet another tough test for Stanford.
The Cardinal appear to be the more talented team on paper, as Rice does not have a singles player ranked in the top 125 or a doubles team ranked in the top 60, whereas Stanford has multiple singles players and a doubles pairing ranked. While the team has had several disappointing close finishes lately, a strong all-around showing could provide the Cardinal a desperately-needed win and some momentum going into the weekend doubles tournament in La Jolla.
The Pacific Coast Doubles tournament will be another opportunity for Stanford to regain confidence for a mid-season rebound. Stanford’s doubles teams have seen recent success in the team’s skid, as the Cardinal won the doubles point in the matches against both USC and UCLA.
As for the women, they enter Pac-12 play against Arizona (9-3) and Arizona State (6-3) as winners of their last four matches, including a 4-3 thriller against Florida. Though the Cardinal actually moved down in the most recent rankings, the number next to their name belies the elite level of play that the Stanford women’s team has maintained throughout the month of February.
Stanford’s No. 1 player, Carol Zhao, is not expected to play this weekend. Zhao returned to the team for its match against Florida after taking several months off to train with the Canadian national team and compete on the women’s professional circuit. Head coach Lele Forood will likely put Taylor Davidson back on Court 1, where she has played for most of the season.
The U of A had been steadily moving up through the rankings for several weeks before a loss to LSU dropped them back to No. 64, while ASU checks in at No. 36. Though no match should be taken for granted, Stanford has shown that it can play with — and beat — some of the top teams in the country.
Stanford’s superior talent and big-match experience may the difference this weekend as the team tries to grab an early lead in the Pac-12 standings with a sweep of the Grand Canyon State.
Contact Evan Burke at eburke3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.