Friday was a tough day on court for Stanford, as No. 18 men’s tennis (19-6, 6-2 Pac-12) and No. 15 women’s tennis (19-6, 7-2 Pac-12) were both dispatched in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
After two victories last weekend to kick off its NCAA berth, the men’s team journeyed to Waco, Texas, to take on No. 3 Baylor (29-3, 4-1 Big 12). Given the Bears’ stellar record, there were few doubts going in that Stanford would have to leave it all on the court for a spot in the Elite Eight.
The Cardinal got off to a solid start in doubles. Freshman Max Basing and fifth-year Timothy Sah won their set 6-3, while fifth-year Axel Geller and senior Tomas Kopczynski teamed up for another 6-3 on court one to clinch the doubles point.
With a 1-0 advantage in the duel, Stanford looked to carry that momentum into singles play but faced stiff opposition from Baylor. The Bears lived up to their top-three ranking as play on several of the six courts got off to a tight start.
The only Stanford player who had a relatively easy time in singles was Basing. After clinching the deciding point last week to send Stanford to the Sweet 16, he put on a masterful display in the No. 3 slot and was first off the courts with a 6-1, 6-1 victory.
But as his teammates played on, some struggled. In the top spot, No. 15 sophomore Arthur Fery could not find a way around No. 5 Adrian Boitan, and he fell in straight sets, 1-6, 2-6. Geller was next to finish on court two, and his straight-set victory gave the Cardinal a 3-1 advantage. They only needed one more match to go in their favor, and that coveted spot in the Elite Eight would be theirs.
But Baylor had other ideas. Senior Sangeet Sridhar was their next victim, falling in a second set tiebreaker on court five. Though senior Alexandre Rotsaert had found a second wind on court four, storming back to take the second set after losing the first, the third set went Baylor’s way for a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 win.
The duel was now tied at three apiece, and the only player who could turn things around for Stanford was Sah on court six. Baylor kept up the pressure, however, and Juan Pablo Grassi Mazzuchi defeated Sah in two closely contested sets, 7-5, 7-6 (5). The Bears’ 4-3 victory booked them a spot in the next round and ended an impressive season for Stanford and its graduating seniors.
While the season may be over for the team, it continues for Fery and Rotsaert. The pair will head to Champaign, Illinois, for the NCAA Championship, which starts on May 23. Fery will be competing in singles, and he and Rotsaert will also enter the doubles tournament.
The women’s team also made their way south, traveling to Norman, Oklahoma, to take on No. 2 Oklahoma (30-2, 9-0 Big 12). Like the men, the skill of their opponents presented both a challenge and an opportunity. If the team could overcome the Sooners, they would book a ticket to the Elite Eight.
Despite a strong start for Stanford in doubles, Oklahoma raced back, defeating the Cardinal’s third pairing of fifth-year Michaela Gordon and freshman Valencia Xu, 6-2. The Sooners then found the edge in a 7-5 victory over senior Sara Choy and freshman Alexandra Yepifanova on court two to take the doubles point.
But the Stanford squad was not to be taken lightly. The Cardinal recently won this year’s Pac-12 Championship, and it appeared that they had brought that energy to the Sooner state.
Junior Angelica Blake, however, was the first to fall in straight sets on court three. Next, Choy brought the fight on court six, dispatching Oklahoma’s Emma Staker, 7-5, 6-0.
As it turned out, Choy’s victory would be Stanford’s only one of the day. In the No. 2 slot Yepifanova was overpowered in a second set tiebreak. The Sooners’ Dana Guzman closed out the match with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over sophomore India Houghton on court four, sealing the win 4-1. With the victory, Oklahoma kept its NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Also very much alive are Stanford’s NCAA singles and doubles NCAA Tournament prospects. Later this month in Champaign, Freshman Connie Ma and Yepifanova are set to compete in singles, while Ma and Blake will look to contest for the doubles title. The trio will look to end the season on another high note, as not only did they capture the Pac-12 title, but the team’s longtime coach, Lele Forood, earned her 500th career victory earlier this year.