Stanford men’s tennis’ 2016-17 campaign came to an end after dropping a 4-0 contest to No. 1 Wake Forest on Thursday in the NCAA Round of 16. Despite a strong start, the 16th-ranked Cardinal could not keep up with the Deacs, winners of 22 of their last 23 matches.
Stanford opened things quickly, as sophomores Sameer Kumar and Michael Genender won the first doubles set on court 2. Wake Forest answered with a win on court 3, leaving the doubles point to No. 54 junior Tom Fawcett and senior Yale Goldberg against No. 4 Skander Mansouri and Christian Seraphim. After a tight, back-and-forth affair, Mansouri and Seraphim prevailed 7-5 to take the 1-0 match lead.
The Cardinal came out resilient in singles play, as senior Brandon Sutter grabbed the first set on court 5, while three of his teammates took first-set leads. From there, Wake Forest’s depth took over as the Deacs cruised to three straight-set victories to close out the match. No. 5 Petros Chyrsochos, a member of the Cyprus Davis Cup team, crushed Fawcett 6-2, 6-0 at the No. 1 spot, putting a dampener on an otherwise fantastic season for Fawcett, the 11th-ranked player in the nation.
The Deacs would go on to prevail on courts 3 and 4 to seal the sweep and move on to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
“First, congrats to Wake Forest, that is a heck of a club there,” said Stanford head coach Paul Goldstein after the match.
“In terms of positive takes, this is the most resilient bunch that I have been around, and it has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with them throughout the year. They have dealt with some incredible adversity, not only with some injuries but also with some off-court stuff. I feel very proud of this team and how they have stayed the course throughout the year despite a lot of adversity.”
Winners of 17 NCAA Championships, Stanford is a storied program in the college tennis arena but has struggled to compete at the highest level in recent years. The team has reached the semifinals only once since its last title in 2000 and did not advance past the second round from 2013 to 2015.
Though Thursday’s match showed that Stanford is still a ways off from returning to the pinnacle of the sport, the season was a strong step in the right direction. In his third year at the helm of the program, Goldstein guided Stanford to its second consecutive Round of 16 appearance, a feat the team had not achieved since the 2011-2012 seasons.
As a top-16 seed, the team also hosted the first two rounds of the NCAAs for the first time since 2012, defeating Idaho and No. 17 Michigan to book its trip to Athens.
Stanford finished the regular season tied for fourth in a stacked Pac-12 and ripped straight through a tough sequence of matches from mid-March to April, recording wins over No. 6 Cal, No. 8 Texas, No. 25 Illinois and No. 5 USC.
Looking towards next year, the team returns a young, promising core that will be ready to reload. Stanford loses starter Sutter, who had a phenomenal senior season, and doubles specialists Goldberg and Roy Lederman to graduation but should be able to fill those gaps with the addition of a top-10 recruiting class.
Barring any surprises, Fawcett, Stanford’s stalwart No. 1 player, will return for his senior season. Fawcett has occupied the top spot in Stanford’s lineup during his three years on the Farm and has been a source of consistency in singles and doubles play for Coach Goldstein throughout his career.
The junior’s season isn’t over just yet, as he will compete at the NCAA singles championships this week.
The Cardinal also return the likes of Kumar and junior David Wilczynski, who have formed a menacing big three along with Fawcett at the top of the lineup.
“As a program, we play for more than just ourselves, and we made a stride as a program in this season in terms of hosting the NCCA’s at home for the first time in five years and getting to this place,” reflected Goldstein on the conclusion of the season.
“As a program, we are not at all where we need to be and where I want us to be, but man, did we take a step this year.”
Contact Neel Ramachandran at neelr ‘at’ stanford.edu.