You can chalk it up to complacency. You can chalk it up to looking ahead to bigger opponents. Or you can just chalk it up to the rivalry itself. Either way, the No. 8 Stanford men’s tennis team lost a match to Cal this past Saturday that it should have won.
“I don’t think there was any cause for concern,” said sophomore Bradley Klahn. “We knew it was going to be tough, but I think we all agreed we would get the job done.”
After handily defeating Boise State 6-1 on Friday, the Cardinal entered the rivalry match with high expectations. Stanford met those expectations early in the match, capturing the doubles point. The duos of Klahn and sophomore Ryan Thacher, along with freshmen Matt Kandath and Denis Lin, both won to secure the point.
On the singles side, Thacher kept the Cardinal’s momentum going with a straight-sets victory over No. 78 Jonathan Dahan, 6-3, 6-0. Senior Richard Wire then went down, 6-3, 6-4, but junior Greg Hirshman briefly put Stanford back on track with a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
Leading 3-1 with three matches left to play, the Cardinal needed just one victory from Klahn, Kandath or junior Alex Clayton. All three players won their first sets, meaning Stanford was one set away from clinching the match.
Then the seemingly impossible for the Stanford tennis program happened: it lost six straight single sets to give the match away. First Klahn, the No. 18 player in the nation, lost the last two sets 6-4, 7-6. Next to finish was Kandath, who lost 6-2, 7-6.
It all came down to Clayton. The junior, playing in the No. 2 spot for the Cardinal, could not hold off the charge from Christopher Konigsfeldt, dropping consecutive sets 6-4, 6-4.
“I feel like normally, at least one of us is going to pull out that win,” Klahn said. “We usually don’t lose three setters after winning the first set. I think it’s a testament to them and their ability to never give up.”
While the loss to Cal is clearly disappointing, it is not devastating. The match does not count toward Stanford’s Pac-10 record, nor will it hinder the Cardinal’s chances of making the 64-team NCAA Tournament in the spring.
What made the loss so surprising, however, was that it came at home. Prior to the Cal match, Stanford was 5-0 at home, losing a combined three points.
One of those points came against Boise State on Friday. With Clayton out of commission due to an illness, Stanford went with an improvised lineup. On the singles side, the normal three-through-six players got bumped up a slot, with Lin filling in the sixth spot.
On the doubles side, Klahn and Thacher did not play and freshman Walker Kehrer replaced Clayton. The biggest beneficiary of the mix-up was sophomore Jamie Hutter, who played in the three-spot alongside freshman Sam Ecker.
The match was Hutter’s first since nearly a year and half ago, when he had to retire from a match due to injury.
“It was little surreal, because [after] 15 months of being out of competition, you almost forget what it feels like,” Hutter said. “I thought my coach was joking when he told me I was playing.”
Hutter made the most of his opportunity, winning 9-7. “It took me a little bit to get back into the flow of things,” the Menlo Park native said. “It was real rewarding getting a win after the all the rehab I’ve been through.”
With the bitter taste of the Cal loss in its mouth, Stanford has a chance to redeem itself–and its home record–this weekend as it hosts No. 6 UCLA on Friday and No. 5 USC on Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity next week,” Klahn said. “Not too many times you get a chance to hop back on the train and see if you can get a win over UCLA and USC. If we keep improving, this little bump in the road, it’s not going to mean that much.”