Bradley Klahn must have looked a little strange walking through security at the Atlanta International Airport on Monday afternoon.
Earlier that day, Klahn had won the NCAA singles title in Athens, Ga. Not wanting to check his hard-earned trophy in his suitcase, the sophomore made the only logical choice.
“I took out my schoolbooks and put the trophy in my backpack,” Klahn said.
Apparently studying for finals can wait a day for the man who became Stanford’s first NCAA singles champion since 2000.
In the championship match, Klahn defeated Louisville’s Austen Childs 6-1, 6-2 — his fourth straight-sets victory in the tournament. The match was never particularly close.
“When I went up two breaks at 4-1, then held serve to go 5-1, I thought I had it in the bag,” Klahn said. “It was nice to close it out 5-2.”
When Klahn finally won on his fourth match point, the Poway, Calif., native dropped to his knees, screamed and raised his clenched fists toward the skies. Klahn was soon greeted by head coach John Whitlinger, assistant coach Brandon Coupe, doubles partner Ryan Thacher and lastly, his mom.
“To be a national champion, it’s a huge deal,” Klahn said. “Just to win an NCAA championship in anything is a huge honor. I’m so excited. I don’t really know what to say.”
As one of eight No. 9-16 seeds, Klahn had a tough road to the title match. After breezing past Southern Methodist’s Artem Baradach in straight sets in the first round, Klahn ran into trouble against Tennessee’s Boriz Conkic. Klahn dropped the first set 6-4, but was able to recover, pulling out the last two sets 6-3, 6-4.
“I had two tough three-setters. I controlled the tempo this year,” he said in reference to his first-round lost last year at the NCAAs.
In the round of 16, Klahn found himself matched against the tournament’s No. 4 seed, Guillermo Gomez from Georiga Tech. In his first upset of the tournament, Klahn dismantled Gomez 6-4, 6-4.
Klahn had his second three-setter in the quarterfinals against Mississippi’s Marcel Thiemann. After dropping the first set 6-1, Klahn looked dead in the water — nearly two straight weeks of tennis taking its toll. Somehow, Klahn fought his way back in the second set to win the tiebreaker and held on to win the third set 6-4 to advance.
In the semifinals, Klahn ran into Duke’s Henrique Cunha<\p>–<\p>the No. 2 player in the nation and the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. Playing what he described as the best tennis of his life, Klahn rattled out two easy 6-2 victories to advance to the finals and a date with history.
“It still hasn’t fully sunk in yet,” he said. “It’s pretty unbelievable.”
In addition to his singles championship, Klahn and Thacher also advanced to the semifinals in the doubles tournament. As the No. 4 seed in the draw, the sophomore duo fell to eventual champions Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz of Virginia.
For now, Klahn plans on taking some much-deserved rest. After finals are over, he will play in some professional tournaments, hopefully including the U.S. Open if he can earn a wild-card spot.
In the meantime, he might get around to digging those textbooks out of his checked baggage.