You hear stories of the Stanford men’s tennis team traveling to Hawaii over Thanksgiving break and you invariably become jealous.
You see tennis players wearing their free Nike shorts, shirts, sweats and shoes and you say to yourself, damn, I wish I were on the team.
You watch the team steamroll over opponents in the Taube Tennis Center, arguably the premiere collegiate stadium in the nation and become even more envious.
Then you sit in class and overhear a player discussing the twice-weekly 7:00 a.m. workouts and you forget why you ever wanted to play on the team.
That is the life of a Stanford men’s tennis player.
The Cardinal, returning its top four players, enters the 2010 season with lofty expectations. Last season, Stanford had its national title dream dashed by a loss to USC in the Round of 16 at the NCAA Tournament.
This season, Stanford does not plan on changing much. Sophomores Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher, junior Alex Clayton and senior Richard Wire, the team’s top ranked players, lead the charge for the Cardinal’s 19th national championship.
Four new freshmen will also enter the fray: Matt Kandath, Denis Lin, Sam Ecker and Walker Kehrer.
Stanford only loses three players from last year’s squad: Matt Bruch, Blake Muller and Jeff Zeller. Bruch, the Pac-10 singles champion his freshman and senior year, is an especially big loss.
Clayton is excited about the combination of new talent and experienced veterans.
“We have a few new freshmen who are going to make an impact immediately,” he said. “We had a really young team last year. Everyone comes in a year older and year more mature.”
As of now most of the roster is set. Klahn, Clayton, Thacher, Wire, Kandath and Lin will most likely be the singles lineup.
Doubles is a little more wide-open. Klahn and Thacher, the No. 1 ranked doubles team in the nation and winners of the National Indoor Championships, will assuredly be the No. 1 for Stanford. After that, there are five players — Clayton, Wire, Kandath, Lin and junior Ted Kelly — competing for the four spots on the two other doubles team.
Whatever the lineups end up being, the Cardinal will not have an easy road to the NCAA Championships. Standing in the way of a dream season for Stanford are the perennial powers: USC, UCLA, Baylor, Texas, Ohio State, Mississippi and Virginia.
Stanford gets it first test of the season Jan. 15-19 at the Sherwood Cup, which features some of the best teams in the nation, including USC and UCLA. While the tournament does not matter in terms of conference play, the Cup traditionally serves as a litmus test for the Cardinal.
“It’s a good way to see where we are as a team,” Wire said.
Stanford has already had one quick test — a match against University of Hawaii over Thanksgiving Break. Even without Klahn, who was out with a minor injury, the Cardinal easily defeated the Warriors 7-0.
“Hawaii was a great warm-up,” Wire said. “We don’t want to draw too much from it, but we were pleased with the results.”
Stanford will quickly see how those results in Hawaii translate to the tougher Pac-10 competition. By the end of the year, the Cardinal players are hoping you will hear one more story: how they won the national championship.