M. Tennis: For Stanford, everybody’s all-American

April 21, 2011, 1:49 a.m.

The Stanford men’s tennis team is one of the most storied collegiate athletic programs in the country. In the past 37 years, the Cardinal has won the NCAA Division I men’s team tennis championship an unprecedented 18 times.

With that track record, one might think other teams would emulate the way the things are run here on the Farm. However, in one glaring instance–recruiting international players–other top teams across the country are doing the exact opposite of the Cardinal.

M. Tennis: For Stanford, everybody's all-American
Head Coach John Whitlinger's men's tennis squad has only one international player - a rarity in college tennis today. (Stanford Daily File Photo)

The Stanford team is a diverse group of 13 guys–together, the roster represents different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. But of the 13 players on the team, only one of them, freshman Fawaz Hourani–a walk-on who has yet to tally any court time during matches–is foreign, hailing from Jordan.

Of the six best players from all 18 opponents the Cardinal has faced this year, 76 out of 108 players–or an average of 4.2 per team–are foreigners. At some point, each of these teams has featured at least two international players in its top six. Stanford, of course, has none.

To say that foreign players have taken over the collegiate tennis game would be an understatement. During matches, it’s almost as common to hear Spanish, German or French exchanged by Stanford’s adversaries as it is English. Much as the professional game has been taken over by international players–there are currently three American players in the top 25 of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)–so too has the collegiate game. And as the number of international players has increased in all levels of the game, the quality of the tennis being played has also increased.

Jamin Ball, a highly-recruited freshman on the team from nearby Menlo Park, commented on the transition between the two wildly different competitive tennis experiences in the United States–high school and then college.

“The major difference is that there are so many more international kids and foreign players,” Ball said. “They really just add a totally new aspect to the game, because before college in the juniors, basically all the big national tournaments would have the same guys in them. Now, since there are so many top new kids, you go into a match knowing next to nothing about your opponent. It’s much harder.”

For a freshman on a Division I tennis team, Ball’s experience has been rather rare. Normally, joining a college team in this day and age would imply joining a culture full of different backgrounds and even different languages.

Multiculturalism is important to consider, because team chemistry is a critically important aspect of the college game. By virtue of being a year-round sport and having many matches and road-trips, tennis teams inevitably spend almost all of their non-scholastic time together.

Because the Cardinal players are almost all from the United States, Ball says that the team doesn’t have to deal with the chemistry challenges that may face a squad with a greater international presence.

“We’re really close as a team,” Ball said, “Everyone gets along great. We kind of need to–we spend so much time together.”

Head coach John Whitlinger, an NCAA singles champion at Stanford back in the 1970s, had a lot to say on the topic of the foreign invasion of college tennis as well.

“Well, it’s definitely added depth to the game,” Whitlinger said. “There’s no question. Just as professional tennis is, it’s a worldwide game now. Because of the international players, the quality of the tennis now is just tremendous. It makes for a lot of competition and, more importantly, it can allow for a program to go from nowhere to somewhere just like that.”

This change in recruiting has made team tennis completely different than it used to be, and it is Whitlinger’s task to adapt to them. But given the chemistry stemming from his team’s common, domestic background, Whitlinger says his job as head coach at Stanford is a little different than many of his colleagues in similar roles around the country.

“First off, if there’s an international kid who’s very good at tennis and can be admitted to Stanford, we’d love to have him, no problem,” Whitlinger said. “But that being said, I am partial to the American kids, I want to work with the American kids. When I’m recruiting I’m probably–well, not probably, I am definitely–going to be looking at the American kids first. That’s just the way we do it around here. That’s just the way I am.”


Login or create an account