As tennis legend Dick Gould sits comfortably in the Taube Tennis Center lounge, he thinks back on the long and storied history that brought him there.
Gould, currently the John L. Hinds Director of Tennis, has been a fixture in the Stanford tennis community for over 50 years. He arrived on campus in 1956 and, apart from a six-year hiatus, has never left.
In 1966, Gould was hired as the men’s tennis coach at Stanford–a position he held for the next four decades. Under his watch, the men’s team achieved an almost unprecedented level of success. In 39 seasons, his Cardinal won an astounding 17 NCAA team titles–for one stretch of 35 years, every four-year player left with at least one championship ring. In the 1980s and 1990s, Gould was named the ITA-Wilson Coach of the Decade.
The men’s tennis squad has been by far the most successful Stanford sports team over that time span, rivaled only by the women’s team, which, starting in 1982 when the women’s NCAA Tennis Tournament was founded, began its own run of dominance. In the past 45 years, the two Stanford tennis teams have won 34 of the 100 NCAA titles that Stanford has collected in its illustrious athletic history.
After stepping down as head coach in 2004 and handing the men’s team to his pupil–current head coach John Whitlinger–Gould has overseen an eclectic range of duties for Stanford tennis, starting with fundraising and moving to mentoring young players, overseeing technology upgrades in Taube and securing prestigious events for Stanford, like the 2011 NCAA Championships.
Gould starts his story with a brief history lesson, just scratching the surface of the well of memories that his career here at Stanford has given him. When Gould first started here, the Stanford athletic scene was a different beast–the football team wasn’t winning Orange Bowls and the women’s soccer team wasn’t finishing consecutive regular seasons undefeated.
In those days, says Gould, tennis was primetime.
“Back in the seventies, we had a couple of players who really drew big crowds–Roscoe Tanner and Sandy Mayer to start and then, of course, John McEnroe,” he says. “In those days tennis was one of the biggest draws on campus, as we were one of the only teams that were doing really well and there were more fans than could watch on our outdoor courts. [We even] decided to move some big matches indoors, into Maples.”
Gould cracks a smile remembering when tennis matches were the marquee events on campus.
“Sports Illustrated was there,” he continues. “The band, the dollies, KZSU, everybody. We’d have three matches in Maples, against big opponents only, on Friday nights and, let me tell you, the atmosphere was electric. “
With a streak of 16 consecutive NACDA Director’s Cups–an annual award given to the college or university with the most overall athletic success–it’s no secret that many of Stanford’s once-struggling sports programs have made remarkable turnarounds. That phenomenon garners well-earned attention from fans on campus and around the country, but may also obscure another incredible accomplishment of Stanford athletics.
While other programs were coming into form, Stanford’s tennis teams have been consistently winning for decades. Even today, the women haven’t lost a match at home in over 12 years–they’re the defending NCAA champions and they’re undefeated in 2011. The men, meanwhile, are ranked No. 6 in the country, are riding a ten-match winning streak and boast the reigning NCAA singles champion in junior Bradley Klahn.
Despite that consistency, attendance at Stanford tennis matches has declined steadily in the years since Gould’s departure as head coach.
While Gould will always be nostalgic for the days that tennis owned the sporting spotlight, Gould still believes that Whitlinger’s current men’s squad is “a legitimate title contender.”
Adding to Stanford’s chances this year, of course, is its home court advantage. Both teams–the top-seeded and women and the eighth-seeded men–will have the opportunity to make a run at national title without ever leaving the Farm.
“Home court advantage makes a gigantic difference, especially for a team that’s really good but not quite great, as this year’s men’s team is,” Gould says. “For this team to take the title, we’re going to need everything to go right.”
While Gould will always treasure the time he spent coaching some of the game’s greatest athletes, he still takes pride and pleasure in his role with the current team. He insists that this year’s batch of top players–Klahn for the men and senior Hilary Barte for the women–“are the most fun players to watch that I have ever seen.”
Stanford hosts the NCAA Tournament beginning May 19 at the Taube Tennis Stadium, and while Gould is no longer coaching, he’ll certainly be just as invested in the action as he’s been for over half a century.