To the layman, the Stanford men’s tennis team’s loss to Virginia on Saturday was simply another end to another season. However, those who were at the match know that it was one of the most exciting sporting events anyone could ask for.
In fact, I’ve been at Stanford for five years, and there are few games that I can think of — in any sport — that matched the atmosphere and tension at Taube Tennis Center on Saturday.
To give you some perspective, No. 8 Stanford was playing No. 1 Virginia in the quarterfinals of the men’s tennis championships, which are being played on the Farm this year. Virginia came into the match undefeated — the Cavaliers hadn’t played a close match all season. They had absolutely killed everyone they played. No player on their team dropped more than three singles matches all season. Their No. 2 singles player, Alex Domijan, was 25-0 in dual matches. The Cavaliers’ tightest matches of the year were a trio of 5-2 victories back in March.
The point is, Virginia was a heavy favorite.
Early on, it looked like Virginia was going to cruise to another victory by quickly grabbing the doubles point and earning wins at No. 6 and No. 4. The Cardinal had its back against the wall, down 3-0. But behind an electric crowd led by costumed frat guys (an elephant, a tiger, SpongeBob, etc.), Stanford rallied. Junior Ryan Thacher handed Domijan his first loss of the year, and fellow junior Bradley Klahn dispatched Michael Shabaz at No. 1. When sophomore Matt Kandath won at No. 5, the match came down to two seniors on court three: Stanford’s Alex Clayton and Virginia’s Sanam Singh.
Although Clayton took the first set and was up a break in the second, Singh came back to square the match, and after four deuces, he broke Clayton in the third set. Singh held serve to take the final set 6-3, ending Stanford’s season.
But the atmosphere surrounding Clayton’s match was special. In the post-match press conference, Singh said that it was the rowdiest crowd he has ever faced.
“I’ve played in some very hostile environments before,” Singh said, “but that was probably the most hostile I’ve ever played in. Everything was stacked against us.”
Between points, Stanford fans erupted into “Let’s go Clayton!” chants. With every point that the senior won, the Cardinal crowd was on its feet.
To be perfectly honest, this was the exception and not the rule for Stanford fans. When have Cardinal fans been described as hostile? Perhaps not since the men’s basketball team was good a few years ago, and the Sixth Man Club was out in full force. No, Stanford is not known for its hostility, but the fans’ performance at Saturday’s match was clearly welcomed by Stanford players.
“The crowd was incredible,” a clearly emotional Clayton said after the match. “That was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had in tennis.
“I’m not going to forget this match or this crowd,” he added.
Hopefully Stanford fans can build off of Saturday’s tennis match. It’s rare that a crowd can make a visible difference in a sporting event, but Virginia was definitely shaken by the eruptive fans.
The lackluster nature of Stanford’s fans has been well documented. There were reports that Washington’s football coach Steve Sarkisian had his team practice in silence to prepare for playing at Stanford Stadium. There is the dwindling Sixth Man attendance. And there is much, much more.
Anyone that was at Saturday’s match, however, now knows how fun it can be to get behind a Stanford team. Is this an event to build off of for Cardinal fans? Perhaps. More likely, however, is that fans will continue to come out for big events — the USC and Cal football games, the UCLA basketball game and playoff games in sports like tennis and baseball.
For one day, however, Stanford fans made Stanford athletes proud.
Daniel Bohm cried a little while writing this column. Send him an e-hug and a tissue at bohmd “at” stanford.edu.