The Stanford men’s tennis team went 0-1 this weekend and left Southern California with a feeling of disappointment.
In a weekend hyped up as a clash of Pac-10 titans, it was the weather that defined the weekend as rain cancelled one match and abbreviated another.
First up was UCLA on Friday. The Cardinal was itching to get back at the Bruins after UCLA bounced Stanford from last season’s NCAA Tournament in the round of 16. Both the Cardinal (8-3) and Bruins (9-2) are off to fantastic starts this season and were looking to prove themselves in Friday’s match. Unfortunately, neither got that chance as rain cancelled the match a few hours before it was scheduled to begin.
Then came two-time defending champion USC on Saturday. Stanford had gotten the best of its in-state rivals last weekend at the ITA National Indoor Championships, 4-3, but USC had the edge this time around, winning in a 5-1 rout.
With rain clouds on the horizon, doubles play was foregone in order to start singles and come to a decision as soon as possible. In the end, cutting play short may have been unnecessary, as USC rolled to five straight singles wins. Only one went to three sets.
Sophomore Matt Kandath pulled out the only victory for Stanford at the No. 6 spot after the Cardinal had fallen behind, 5-0. Kandath won his match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Other players did not fare so well.
Defending NCAA singles champion and ninth-ranked Bradley Klahn fell to fourth-ranked Steve Johnson of USC, 6-3, 6-3. Johnson seems to have Klahn’s number, as he beat Klahn for the second time in as many matches.
At the No. 2 spot for Stanford, No. 52 Ryan Thacher fought valiantly but ultimately fell to No. 16 Daniel Nguyen, 6-3, 6-7, 1-0 (10-7). Thacher had beaten Nguyen last week and this was the closest match of the top five spots.
The key difference between this week’s match and last week’s was the return of No. 37 Ray Sarmiento to the Trojan lineup. Sarmiento was inserted at the No. 4 spot and proved too much for Sophomore Denis Lin to handle, winning the match 6-4, 6-2.
Sarmiento’s return shifted the Trojan lineup favorably and USC’s Emilio Gomez rounded off the Trojans’ five victories, breaking Greg Hirschman’s four-game winning streak with a 7-6, 6-1 victory over the Stanford senior.
Head Coach John Whitlinger did have some positive notes to say about the game.
“I’ve gone down to L.A. many times in my years as a coach and at times we’ve gotten blasted down there, but then we still beat them in the NCAA Tournament,” Whitlinger said with a smile. “So whatever happened, there is still a long way to go before the NCAAs.”
However, after starting 7-0, Stanford has dropped three of its last four matches. All have been against top competition, so it is not too much cause for worry. However, as a national title contender, the Cardinal will be hoping to develop more consistency against tough opponents.
USC, Stanford and UCLA are the three leaders in NCAA men’s tennis titles with seventeen, sixteen and fifteen titles, respectively. After these Pac-10 powerhouses, the next closest is Georgia with a mere six titles. It is safe to say these schools will be relevant in the national title hunt going forward and as Whitlinger intimated, when they meet again, the result is far from determined by Saturday’s results.
Stanford travels to the Pacific Coast Doubles Tournament before the start of Pac-10 play and will have another shot at the L.A. schools at home on March 25 and 26.