The No. 29 Stanford men’s tennis team (16-11, 4-3 Pac-12) went into the NCAA championships with plenty to prove. Although the team was making its 37th overall NCAA championships appearance, this year’s squad had managed both moments of brilliance and moments of immense struggle. At one point in the season, the Cardinal sunk to become the No. 43 ranked team in the country before rebounding to No.29 ahead of the NCAA championships.
It was in this landscape that Stanford entered into the tournament, ready to work past this season’s struggles against higher ranked opponents. It partly accomplished this in the second round against No. 14 Northwestern, when it emerged victorious in a 4-3 upset led by the bottom of the lineup and sophomore Tom Fawcett in the No. 1 position.
However, the team found itself unable to once again flip the script against Pac-12 rival and national powerhouse No. 2 UCLA (25 – 3, 7-0), losing 4-2. The Bruins proved to be too big an obstacle four times this season, beating Stanford twice during the regular season and knocking it out of the Pac-12 semifinals and again in the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament on Friday.
The Cardinal captured the doubles point to start the match, something they had done in each of their three previous matches against UCLA. The No. 3 doubles team of junior Yale Goldberg and freshman Sameer Kumar quickly took control and captured their set in a 6-1 victory. Senior Nolan Paige and sophomore David Wilczynski would not be so fortunate, falling 6-4 to UCLA in the No. 2 position. This left the always-crucial doubles point up to both teams’ top doubles players, who were locked in a tightly contested match.
Fawcett and senior Maciek Romanowicz stepped up their play and managed to come from behind and clinch the doubles point in the No. 1 position in a 7-5 battle. This was the high point for the Cardinal in the match, who moved into singles ahead on the scoreboard.
That lead was quickly erased as No. 15 Fawcett was quickly toppled by UCLA’s No. 1 singles player and the No. 6 player in the nation, Mackenzie McDonald, 6-1, 6-2. The No. 2 and No. 3 matches also ended in UCLA’s favor, with freshman Michael Genender and No. 87 David Wilczynski losing 7-5, 6-2 and 7-5, 6-3 respectively.
With Stanford quickly losing three singles points, the team found themselves down 3-1 in the match and on the verge of being knocked out of the tournament. With three matches left to play, the Cardinal would need to win all three in order to advance.
Maciek Romanowicz briefly provided a burst of momentum as he fired back with a 6-3, 7-6 victory at the No. 6 position. However, the moment would be brief, as UCLA’s Karue Sell outlasted Nolan Paige in a gritty three-set match. Paige had managed to stay tough in the first set and claim it in a tiebreak, but he proved unable to close out the match and fell 6-3, 6-0 in the second and third sets.
While UCLA clinched the match 4-2, this was still an improvement on their meeting with Stanford in the Pac-12 Championships, when the Cardinal lost 4-1. This was also Stanford’s best finish in the tournament since 2012 and its best finish under second-year head coach Paul Goldstein. While the team graduates two starting seniors in Paige and Romanowicz, a core of young players led by Fawcett should prove to be powerful building blocks for next season and the future.
Contact Amanda McLean at ammclean ‘at’ stanford.edu.