After a tough loss to California last Saturday, the Stanford men’s tennis team could use an easy match against a cupcake opponent to restore its confidence.
The No. 14 Cardinal (7-2) will have no such opportunity this weekend. Instead, it faces a daunting slate of matches against some of the nation’s best teams.
The Cardinal squares off against Pac-10 rivals No. 7 UCLA (5-2) on Friday and No. 5 USC (10-1) on Saturday. Both teams made the Final Four of the NCAA Team Championships last year, and USC ended up winning the national championship.
Fortunately for the Card, both matches will be played in the friendly home confines of the Taube Family Tennis Center.
“These two teams are as good as anyone in the country,” explained Stanford head coach John Whitlinger. “I would expect typical L.A. style matches that go right down to the wire.”
This weekend’s matches will not count towards the Pac-10 standings. The official conference matches will be played in early April in Los Angeles.
Stanford split a pair of 4-3 decisions with UCLA last year. The Bruins have four singles players ranked in the ITA top 100.
Both teams defeated No. 10 Kentucky at the Indoor National Championships in Charlottesville, Virg. two weeks ago.
Stanford also split its season series with USC last year, but the Trojans knocked out the Cardinal in the third round of the NCAA Tournament during their championship run.
“USC, UCLA and Stanford traditionally have the greatest rivalry in tennis,” said senior Richard Wire. “As a player and fan of Stanford tennis, these are the matches that we circle on our calendar every year.”
“If we can get a couple of wins this weekend, we will move back into the top 10 and gain a lot of confidence,” he continued.
Stanford is looking to rebound from a devastating loss to Cal.
The Cardinal won the doubles point and won the first set in five of the six singles matches against the Golden Bears. Cal clawed its way back from a 3-1 deficit to win the match 4-3, with the help of a pair of third-set tiebreaker victories.
“That was one of the hardest losses I’ve had at Stanford,” Whitlinger admitted. “We had them and we let them off the hook.”
Junior Alex Clayton, who was battling strep throat, lost 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. He should be over his illness for this weekend’s matches.
Freshman Matt Kandath, who also lost a close match in three sets, is excited for the weekend.
“The Cal loss was one of the program’s worst home losses ever,” he said. “We’re ready to turn it into a motivational tool and move on.”
“We’re all ready to get back on the court,” Whitlinger added. “This is a great opportunity to see where we’re at.”
The forecast calls for rain on Friday and Saturday. Coaches are preparing for delays and possible postponements.
Stanford will look to get back on track against UCLA at 1:30 p.m. on Friday and USC on Saturday at 1 p.m.