Junior Bradley Klahn has started the 2011 men’s collegiate tennis season much as he finished the 2010 one: with an emphatic victory at a major tournament. Last May, Klahn won the NCAA singles title as a sophomore, becoming Stanford’s first NCAA champion since Alex Kim in 2000.
Klahn didn’t play like a person feeling a lot of pressure as the reigning NCAA champion this past weekend at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup, thoroughly dominating the competition on his way to victory. He didn’t drop a set throughout the five rounds of the tournament, compiling a staggering 60-22 advantage in games won over the course of the weekend.
“The tournament went very well on my end. Winning the singles and the doubles is a great accomplishment for me personally,” Klahn said. “I also think the tournament was a good early test for our team to kind of see where we match up with some of the best teams in the country….It’s certainly a good wake-up call for our guys to know that we can play with the top teams, but that there’s some work to be done if we want to succeed throughout the year and ultimately in the NCAAs.”
Ranked No. 15 and seeded second heading into the tournament, Klahn dispatched the two top players from rival Southern California in the semifinals and finals–No. 3 seed Daniel Nguyen and No. 1 seed Steve Johnson, respectively. The title is Klahn’s second consecutive Sherwood Cup crown, having defeated Baylor’s Denes Lukacs in last year’s final.
The weekend’s tournament win is nothing new for Klahn, who has won an impressive five tournaments in just over two years of collegiate experience with Stanford. In addition to the two Sherwood Cup victories and the 2010 NCAA singles crown, he has collected the 2010 ITA Northwest Regional Championship and the 2009 Pac-10 singles title.
The Sherwood Cup was a good showing for Stanford men’s tennis in general, with junior Ryan Thacher joining Klahn in the winners’ circle for their triumph in the doubles portion of the bracket. This weekend marked the fifth time Klahn and Thacher have won doubles titles together.
Overall, four players–Klahn, Thacher, sophomore Denis Lin and senior Greg Hirshman–all advanced to at least the round of 16 in the singles draw. Freshman Jamin Ball accrued valuable experience and showed some tenacity as he bounced back from a tough first-round loss against USC’s Johnson by resoundingly winning his consolation match.
But Klahn, as has been the case since the day he walked on campus as a freshman from Poway High School in southern California, was the center of attention for the men’s tennis team. A player like Klahn is “special,” in the words of Stanford head coach John Whitlinger.
“He’s just a really great kid,” Whitlinger effused about his star player. “He’s an incredibly hard worker, he’s a fun guy to be around and he’s just a real down-to-earth kid who also does well academically. It’s a nice combination when you’re a good student and a heck of a tennis player. I’m really excited for the potential he has and what his future will hold.”
Klahn has already been to the peak of collegiate tennis, and he says the experience has only improved his preparations.
“Winning the NCAAs was a huge accomplishment for me last year, and it was a nice reward for all the hard work I’d been putting in,” he said. “I think that it gave me a lot of confidence.”
With the success he’s had, there’s no doubt Klahn has a bit of a target on his back. His challenge is to maintain focus amid his fame and lead Stanford back to the top of collegiate men’s tennis. The Cardinal hasn’t reached the pinnacle of the sport as a team since 2000, and it is in the midst of the longest championship drought since the 1970s.
The season will heat up next Tuesday as the Cardinal hosts Sacramento State. The following weekend brings both Santa Clara and Vanderbilt into town, making it a pivotal stretch in the season’s early going as teams compete for a spot in the National Team Indoor Championships, which start on Feb. 18 in Seattle. All three of next week’s matches are at home.