Over the next several days, the 7th ranked Stanford Men's tennis team will host a trio of highly-ranked teams at Taube Tennis Stadium. It all begins on Friday at 1:30, when the Trojans of Southern California come to town. On Saturday, Stanford will host the sixth-ranked UCLA Bruins at 1 pm. Finally, next Tuesday (4/8), the California Golden Bears, currently ranked #4, will cross the Bay for a late afternoon (4 pm) rivalry tussle.
The Cardinal return home after a successful road trip to the Pacific Northwest where the squad bested the #9 Washington Huskies (5-2) and the Oregon Ducks (6-1). But, the 2003 season has been anything but smooth sailing for coach Dick Gould and his team. The season opened with a heart-breaking 4-3 loss at Berkeley to a strong Cal team. Then, after five straight wins, Stanford was dominated 4-0 by Baylor at the National Team Indoor Championships in Louisville, KY. Finally, in early March, the team was shocked to learn that one of its top players, senior Ryan Haviland, had quit the team for "personal reasons" and joined the pro tour. However, since Haviland's sudden departure, the team has responded with a seven consecutive victories. Seniors Scott Lipsky and David Martin have shared the #1 singles position although Martin played #1 this past weekend and sports a #12 national ranking. "I have been impressed with the continued improvement of seniors Martin and Lipsky," says coach Gould. Freshman K.C. Corkery is 11-1 in dual matches, mostly at #3 singles. Sophomore Sam Warburg (Sacramento, CA) is 14-1 and ranked #57. Frosh James Pade, the pride of Woodside, CA, has manned the #5 position and achieved a 13-2 record. The sixth singles spot has been shared mostly by Phil Sheng and Carter Morris. Says Gould, "We're mixing this around now, since both will be important next year and if someone gets seriously hurt this year and since we want to see if one emerges in time for the NCAA's in either singles or doubles." In doubles, the Martin/Lipsky duo has earned a #4 ranking while Warburg/Corkery are ranked #27.
After winning the national championship last season, USC is having a bit of a down year. Their overall record stands at a modest 12-6 and their ranking is all the way down to #22. They have already been swept by cross-town rival UCLA, losing two one-sided matches (7-0 and 6-1). USC's legendary coach Dick Leach retired after leading the Trojans to the NCAA crown last year and has been replaced by ex-Pepperdine coach Peter Smith. The Trojans have missed Leach and his 23 years of experience but Smith should prove to be a very capable coach for this program in the future. Southern Cal's top player is sophomore Prakash Amritraj, currently ranked #34 nationally. Prakash, who attended the same Harvard-Westlake high school as the Collins twins, is the son of Indian tennis legend Vijay Amtritraj [For you trivia buffs out there: In what James Bond movie did Vijay play a supporting role?].
The UCLA Bruins have wins over #8 Duke, #13 Kentucky and USC (twice) and are 16-1 on the season. The only blemish on their record is a 4-1 loss to Florida at the National Team Indoor Championships in Kentucky. They are lead by 9th ranked Tobias Clemens (from Bonn, Germany), who sports a 24-4 overall season record. Amazingly, five other Bruin players are ranked in the ITA's Top 100. But, the Bruins' #2 player, Marcin Matkowski, will be unavailable for this weekend's matches, as he will be representing Poland in a Davis Cup match against South Africa. Matkowsji's absence could seriously weaken UCLA's lineup. However, another potential wild-card in the Bruins' lineup is senior Jean-Julien Rojer, who stopped out from school last quarter to play professionally and it's unclear if Rojer will play this weekend. If so, he could be manning in the #1 position for Bruin coach Billy Martin.
Head coach Peter Wright and Cal are enjoying one of their best seasons in many years. A season-opening 4-3 victory over Stanford has propelled the Bears to a 12-2 record and a #4 national ranking. As a matter of fact, with the Cal women's similar #4 ranking, this is the first time since 1991 that both Cal tennis teams are in the top ten. Sophomore Conor Niland (from Limerick, Ireland) has been playing #1 singles for Berkeley and has achieved a #50 ranking. But, in the last week or so, senior captain John Paul "II" Fruttero has returned from January wrist surgery and may be back at the top of the lineup. Fruttero finished the 2002 season with a #11 ranking. Despite the Bears' success this year, doubles competition has been their Achilles heel. Cal entered this week's competition with a dubious 38-36 doubles record.
The recent trend in college tennis is to extensively recruit international players as many coaches feel the constant pressure to win. Many teams feature four, five or even six foreigners. The most telling stat is found in the current ITA rankings. Only 30 of the top 100 U.S. college players are Americans. Coach Gould's magic recruiting touch has enabled Stanford to buck this trend but almost all of our rivals are offering numerous scholarships to overseas kids. USC's top four players are all non-Americans. UCLA, with a proud tennis tradition and alums like Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors, features only one American among its top six singles players. Cal's most likely lineup features four foreigners. Besides Stanford, the other prominent program relying on homegrown talent is top-ranked University of Illinois, which features only Americans in its lineup. Furthermore, the Illini's top three players are all currently ranked in the Top 10 nationally. For that, I applaud Illinois coach Craig Tiley, who ironically was born in Durban, South Africa. In ten years, coach Tiley has brought the Illinois program from the lower echelons of the Big 10 to its status today as one of the best programs in the nation.
Coach Gould, always the tennis ambassador, has his own take on the foreign invasion of college tennis. "I think the foreigners in college tennis have saved the game. Our team is better by playing against the foreigners. I have never really seen a foreign player bastardize the educational system any more than an American player. There are some Americans in school who probably should not be there. There are some foreigners in school who probably should not be there. The vast majority of foreign players are very serious about their studies at school."
Please come out to Taube Tennis Center this weekend (and next Tuesday) and support your talented Cardinal team. This is always the highlight of the home schedule and the matches against our California rivals should be espec