By Evan Burke
This Saturday, the No. 29 Stanford’s men’s tennis team (14-10, 4-3 Pac-12) will begin its postseason in Evanston, Illinois against No. 40 Notre Dame (15-13, 6-6 ACC) in the NCAA tournament.
Stanford enters Evanston after a season full of highs and lows. The team’s rank has climbed as high as 17th and slid as low as 43rd. Its season includes a five-match losing streak, immediately followed by a five-match winning streak. With the grind of the regular season schedule behind them, however, the Cardinal have the opportunity now to start fresh in a match against an opponent that has never beaten them, as the Irish are 0-5 all time against Stanford.
Although the Cardinal have not been able to consistently demonstrate their dominance, they have undoubtedly shown they are capable of challenging any team in the country. Stanford played a notably difficult schedule this year, with each of its 10 losses coming to teams ranked within the top 30. It also dropped four 4-3 decisions to top-20 teams. In addition, Stanford is coming off a rather strong performance in the Pac-12 tournament, during which they were able to progress to the semifinals.
Each of the past four years Stanford, has played its opening NCAA Tournament match on the road, so the Cardinal are no stranger to high-pressure situations away from home. However, the team has struggled outside of Taube Tennis Center this season, amassing a 3-4 away record. The weather is also forecast to be unseasonably cold in South Bend on Saturday, and because Stanford’s players are used to the warmer West Coast weather, the cooler temperatures could present a challenge.
Stanford should not take the Irish for granted despite the lopsided head-to-head record between the two teams. Before falling to eventual ACC champions Wake Forest in a hard-fought 4-3 match, Notre Dame had been playing some of its best tennis of the year and had won five matches in a row. If the Cardinal don’t bring their best tennis on Saturday, they could be looking at an early exit.
Should the Cardinal dispatch the Fighting Irish, the road will only get tougher. Evanston is home to the 14th-seeded Northwestern Wildcats (25-4), who loom as likely potential second round opponents. Other teams of note in Stanford’s section of the draw are third-seeded UCLA, a familiar foe for the Cardinal, and sixth-seeded Wake Forest, the same team that recently took out Notre Dame in the ACC tournament and won the conference championship.
Stanford tennis has a long and proud tradition of excellence, having won 17 national championships all-time and 15 since 1977. Though this year’s Cardinal may not have the same aura as some of those vaunted squads, all of them started where the team is now. Stanford is flying under the radar this year, but capable of taking out squads like UCLA and Wake should it get hot. With nothing to lose and everything to play for, these Cardinal will attempt to bring home championship No. 18 to The Farm, one match at a time.
Contact Evan Burke at eburke3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.