The No. 7 Stanford men’s tennis team travels to Los Angeles this weekend to face a pair of formidable Pac-10 rivals in No. 5 UCLA and No. 9 USC.
The Cardinal (8-2) is hoping to bounce back from two tough losses at last week’s ITA National Indoor Championships, where it went 1-2 against some of the top teams in the nation in Florida and Georgia. However, the Los Angeles schools may provide even stiffer competition.
Stanford will first take on UCLA (9-1) this afternoon. The Bruins had a strong showing at last week’s tournament, going 2-1 and beating the same Florida team that handed the Cardinal its first loss of the season just two days earlier. The Bruins will be looking to prove that they are the team to beat in the Pac-10 this season.
Then, at 1 p.m. tomorrow, the Cardinal will face two-time defending national champion USC. The Trojans (8-2) will certainly be amped up for the match after Stanford took the first matchup between the two rivals 4-3 in a hard-fought match last weekend. Plagued by injuries early in the season, it is tough to say how good this year’s version of the Trojans can be.
Head coach John Whitlinger has no illusions about this weekend.
“Any time you go to L.A., no matter what kind of team I’ve been a part of over 25 years, it’s always a challenge,” Whitlinger said. “They’re just very good; they play well at home, and they have their crowd.”
While he recognizes that the matches won’t be easy, Whitlinger views this weekend as another opportunity for the team to gain valuable experience against elite teams.
“I’m looking forward to two very competitive, tough matches. When you play top-10, top-five competition, it can only help to give you an idea of where your team’s at.”
According to Whitlinger, Stanford still has plenty of work to do after losing to Florida and Georgia at last week’s tournament, but he believes the losses will help motivate the team going forward.
“Every match we played in Seattle was very close and could’ve gone either way,” Whitlinger said. “I don’t think they’ve lost confidence. I think they’re just a little upset we couldn’t pull off all the matches that we played.”
The Cardinal hopes to carry the consistent play of defending NCAA singles champion junior Bradley Klahn (16-5 record this year), sophomore Denis Lin (12-4) and senior Greg Hirshman (12-3) into this weekend. Hirshman appears to have turned a corner in his game, as he is currently riding an impressive four-game win streak. To beat teams of UCLA and USC’s caliber, however, all of the players will need to step up.
While matches between top teams can be indicative of the season to come, Whitlinger was also wary of putting undue emphasis or pressure on these early-season contests.
“Like I tell the guys, you don’t get too high with the wins or too low with the losses, so no matter what happens, we’re trying to get better and improve and get ready for May,” he said.
The NCAA men’s tennis season is a long one, and as one of the top teams in the nation, Stanford has chosen to focus on the long-term goal of winning an NCAA championship.
That being said, this weekend’s matches feature traditional Pac-10 rivalry hype combined with the usual excitement of top-10 matchups.