Nine players on the sixth-ranked Stanford men’s tennis team traveled to Ojai, Calif., this weekend to participate individually in the Pac-10 Championships. Four hot days later, the tournament came down to a match between the top two players on the top two teams — No. 1 Steve Johnson of USC and No. 9 Bradley Klahn of Stanford.
The Pac-10 Championships are an individual tournament, where the top singles and doubles teams for each school compete for a chance at a Pac-10 Championship. There are two draws — the main championship draw and an invitational draw.
Klahn, junior Ryan Thacher, senior Alex Clayton and sophomores Denis Lin and Matt Kandath competed in the main draw, while sophomore Walker Kehrer and freshmen Jamin Ball, Fawaz Hourani and Daniel Ho competed in the invitational draw.
Stanford was represented in the finals of both draws, ultimately falling in both contests.
Kehrer made his way to the finals of the invitational draw, defeating Bozhidar Katsarov of Cal, Matt Stith of Washington and Zach Gilbert of Cal to reach the finals against Warren Hardie of UCLA. Hardie defeated Kehrer 6-4, 6-2 to take the invitational title.
The main event, however, was the heated match between Johnson and Klahn, the top two seeds in the tournament.
Klahn and Johnson know each other well, and Klahn described what it was like playing his top-ranked friend.
“I’ve played Steve many times and it’s always a tough match,” Klahn said. “He’s been one of my best friends for a while, and it’s never easy playing a friend, but at the same time, we both want to go out there, and we want to win. It’s a big title, the Pac-10 Championship.”
In the end, Johnson pulled out a tight first-set tiebreaker en route to a 7-6(5), 6-3 victory over Klahn.
Even in losing, Klahn was very pleased with his play in Ojai this weekend.
“Overall, I thought the tournament went very well for me. Obviously, today was a tough match, but I thought I played better with each match this weekend,” Klahn said. “Making it to another final was a huge accomplishment for me, but it’s just another stepping stone in the team’s progression toward the NCAAs and my progression as a player.”
Among a weekend of impressive victories, Klahn felt he played his best tennis in his loss to Johnson.
“I came out aggressively, and even though I ended up losing, I thought it was my best match of the tournament,” he said. “I served well, took the initiative and forced the play a bit more than I had. I felt a lot more solid, especially on my backhand, a stroke I have been focusing on improving lately. I felt much looser than I had in the previous four matches, but in the end, he just played the bigger points better.”
Klahn noted one particular game as his only regret of the match.
“I had a chance at 3-3 when I was leading love-40 with three break points, but I had five straight return errors,” he said. “[Johnson] hit some good serves, but it just wasn’t real smart on my part. I let up a bit, trying to just get my returns in, but other than that, I was very pleased with how I progressed over the week. It’s disappointing to lose, certainly, but looking at the bigger picture will help me in the long run.”
After a weekend where the focus was on individuals, the Stanford squad (18-5, 5-1 Pac-10) returns its focus to team play. Stanford hosts the NCAA Tournament in two weeks and will be looking to finish an impressive season with a national title.
Klahn discussed what this weekend meant to the team going forward as well as what can still be improved upon.
“We had some good wins,” he said. “We obviously always want to do better, but as far as preparing for the NCAAs in a few weeks, I thought guys played pretty good matches, and it was great to get some wins down there.”
Ultimately, Klahn just wants the team to enjoy the experience and make the best of the opportunity.
“This is a great time of year. The postseason, the springtime, it doesn’t get any better than this. This is what we’ve been training all school year for. This is it. We’ve been working to play our best tennis in May, and now it’s just time to show all the hard work we’ve done.”