By Shan Reddy
This article is part of a running series The Daily sports staff will be publishing on Stanford sports teams.
The 2018-2019 Stanford men’s tennis season ended in the third round of the 2019 Division 1 Men’s Tennis Championships with a 2-4 loss to No. 5 Virginia (23-4) in Charlottesville on May 11, putting a somewhat disappointing end to a solid but not certainly not stellar 19-7 season. Ending the year ranked No. 13 nationally, Cardinal was 12-2 over the course of season at home but struggled in away games, winning four of seven on the road.
A seven-game winning streak through February and March that included wins against No. 4 Florida and No. 30 Arizona was dishearteningly snapped by back-to-back in-conference losses to No. 8 USC and No. 11 UCLA. A subsequent three-game stretch of wins against No. 18 California, No. 47 Oregon and No. 72 Washington provided a glimmer of hope entering the Pac-12 Championships during the last week of April — a hope that was crushed in the semifinals of the tournament by a surging Trojans team that ended the year as the top-ranked Pac-12 team in the national standings.
The team then had a week to regroup and strategize for the NCAA Championships, which kicked off at Taube Family Tennis Stadium on May 3 against No. 70 Fresno State. The Cardinal made quick work of the Bulldogs and went on to pitch a second-straight shutout the next day in Round Two against No. 38 UC Santa Barbara.
The third round, however, pitted Stanford against their rival from the East Coast: Virginia, a talented team that had defeated the Cardinal earlier in the season 2-4 and featured the 2019 ACC Men’s Tennis Player of the Year in junior Carl Soderlund as well as the 2019 ITA Atlantic Region Rookie of the Year in freshman Brandon Nakashima. After dropping the doubles point, Stanford’s senior captain Sameer Kumar and sophomore Timothy Sah each grabbed singles victories to put the Cardinal ahead. Playing in front of their home crowd, the Cavaliers stormed back, taking the match 4-2 on the rackets of No. 3 Soderlund, No. 82 Nakashima and No. 144 Henrik Wiersholm.
The defeat saw the ends of the careers of seniors Kumar and Michael Geneder, the former of whom finished his highly decorated Stanford career tied for 32nd in program history with 46 career dual match wins.
Though the Cardinal’s postseason run was lacking, the team was outstanding in the classroom, leading the Pac-12 with six selections to the conference’s all-academic teams. Kumar, the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, joined Geneder and junior Jack Barber on the All-Academic First Team — while junior William Genesen and sophomore Axel Geller made Second Team. Sah was an honorable mention selection. Majors in Science, Technology and Society, Barber and Geneder own 3.92 and 3.96 grade-point averages, respectively.
Freshman No. 63 Alexandre Rotsaert was the only player to represent Stanford men’s tennis in the NCAA individual championships earlier this month; he fell to Georgia’s No. 39 Emil Reinberg in the first round (6-2, 7-5). Rotsaert had an impressive rookie season and was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team, but the team’s standout player this season was Geller, whose national ranking never dipped below No. 15 this season. Geller was Stanford’s only selection to the All-Pac-12 First Team and was also named Player to Watch in the Northwest region by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
“Axel, of course, is such a leader on the court,” said Kumar. “He’s going to be a junior next year and has the potential to lead this team well.”
Though the team ended their season ranked in the top 15 nationally, they’re setting their sights even higher for the future.
“In college tennis, there’s so much parity in that any team that’s playing the best at the end of the year can win the national championship — even if they’re not No. 1 in the country,” said Kumar. “I think [Stanford] will be really good for a long time.”