W. Tennis: Sweet 16 duel

May 20, 2010, 12:43 a.m.

Stanford takes on Clemson in 8-9 matchup today

W. Tennis: Sweet 16 duel
Stanford's top singles and doubles players, junior Hilary Barte and senior Lindsay Burdette, will lead the No. 8 seed Stanford women's tennis team into its Sweet 16 match against No. 9 seed Clemson. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

With its home court successfully defended, the No. 8 Stanford women’s tennis team heads out to Athens, Ga. to face No. 9 Clemson in the next round.

The Cardinal dispatched Fairfield and No. 31 SMU with identical 4-0 sweeps in the first and second rounds to make it to the round of 16 in this year’s tournament.

“I was a little nervous, especially because we haven’t played at home in a while,” said sophomore Veronica Li. “We hadn’t played a real dual match in a bit either so I was trying to get back into it first of all, but I was also thinking it wasn’t part of the season. It was the NCAA — definitely a strange experience.”

This marks the 25th year in a row that the team has made it this far. Unfortunately, the players have the reminder of last year’s early defeat to Baylor in the round of 16 hanging over their heads. That was the team’s earliest exit in 11 years, and so Stanford will surely use that thought as motivation.

The team comes into this matchup with far more rest than the Clemson players. The Tigers had to battle through four hours of heat to dispatch Georgia 4-2 in the second round.

Stanford also has the historical edge against Clemson. The Cardinal is 9-0 in head-to-head matchups and has knocked Clemson out of the NCAA Tournament five times, most recently in the Sweet 16 in 2008.

The Tigers do have many good things going for them, however. In the regular season, the team tied a school record with a 13-1 home record and defeated eight top-25 opponents. This is the fourth consecutive season that Clemson is into the Sweet 16, and the program clearly has been on the upswing recently.

While Clemson is much closer to the site of the match than Stanford, Li believes that the crowd will be in the Cardinal’s favor.

“We have our alumni, former tennis players on the team flying in, a lot of family members are coming over,” Li said. “[Clemson] beat Georgia, so I’m hoping we’ll have some UGA fans come out and rally for us instead of Clemson.”

Li is one of the players that have contributed most to Stanford’s presence in Georgia. She completed and won both her matches over the weekend in straight sets; the first was a 6-0, 6-0 blowout and the second was nearly as good, 6-2, 6-1. In fact, she’s been playing this way all year, amassing a 25-7 overall record. With 20 dual match victories, she is tied for the team lead in wins with junior Hilary Barte and freshman Mallory Burdette.

Despite her regular season success, Li was hesitant coming into the postseason.

“I was injured coming back from Ojai, just my ankle,” Li said. “I hadn’t really done much and I felt a little slow physically so that was tough. I’m finally getting back into it and every day has been a little bit easier.”

Stanford hopes Li can fight through the pain as well as she did in the first two rounds.

Another player that must be followed is senior Lindsay Burdette. She was leading in both her matches by one set over the weekend when play was halted. She is a Georgia native, so Stanford hopes she can find an extra source of confidence in Athens. The Cardinal will need both these players performing at their top level to get past Clemson, and, possibly to be prepared to face No. 1 Baylor in the next round.

Baylor has had an outstanding season, rising to the top seed in this year’s tournament. For Stanford, it is also a little personal. Baylor has knocked Stanford out of the tournament the past three years in a row.

“The fact that we’ve lost to them all three years,” Mallory Burdette said, “if that isn’t motivating enough to get there and beat them, I don’t know what is.”

The Card will take on Clemson at 3 p.m. PST today. If Stanford advances, it will take on the winner of Baylor vs. Texas on Saturday at 2 p.m. PST.

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