As No. 36 Stanford men’s tennis hits the final stretch of the regular season this weekend with the Pac-12 Championships fast looming on the horizon, a young team with lots of potential in the years to come can seek solace in the future. As it finishes off a disappointing season in which it doesn’t have much of a chance to go far in either the Pac-12 or the national tournaments, the Cardinal has seen flashes of potential from its future contributors.
The lack of singles depth doomed the Cardinal this year, and though Stanford has seen matches come down to the final singles match on numerous occasions (No. 16 Columbia, No. 26 Texas, No. 18 Cal, No. 4 UCLA), it has been a dominant doubles game that has masked the deficiencies of the singles lineup – at least, on the scoreboard.
Stanford has won its last nine doubles points, meaning that in the last nine matches, Stanford’s opponent has had to win at least four of the six singles matches in order to take the victory – and the Cardinal lost four of those nine contests. Even with a leg up thanks to the continued excellence of the doubles pairings (which are essentially meant to serve as a de facto tiebreak between evenly matched singles teams), the Cardinal still haven’t found a way to win singles consistently despite experimenting with numerous variations of their lineup.
The problem is that aside from sophomore Tom Fawcett, who is 10-3 on Court 1 singles this year and boasts a No. 6 national ranking, the rest of the Stanford singles lineup is maddeningly inconsistent. (To be fair, Fawcett has his ups and downs as well, as his amazing power forehand stroke is hindered by just an average backhand and a tendency to let his frustrations affect his play.)
Both sophomore David Wilczynski (No. 2 singles) and senior Nolan Paige (anywhere from No. 3 – No. 5) are talented college players and can be dominant at times but also go through stretches where they look lost and rattled and their technique and focus slip. Freshmen Michael Genender and Sameer Kumar – particularly Kumar – have shown strong potential while still growing into college-level conditioning and cleaning up their games, and they’re going to be consistent players for years to come.
All too often this year, Fawcett has been the only beacon of consistency – but against elite competition like USC and UCLA (the top tier of the Pac-12), the Cardinal are evenly matched on Court 1 and outmatched everywhere else, a losing recipe that won’t get the Cardinal very far in the tournament.
Stanford will next take on Oregon and Washington at Taube Tennis Center on Friday and Saturday before a midweek matchup against USF at home leading into the regular-season finale at Berkeley on the 16th.
If you’re looking for tournament potential, though, look no further than to the other lhome ocker room in Taube, where the No. 19 Cardinal women have quietly put together a solid 10-5 record (including a 5-1 mark in conference play) despite having played 10 of their 15 matches without their top overall player, junior Carol Zhao.
Although Zhao spent most of the dual season playing on the USTA pro circuit in preparation for her role on the Canadian National Team, the junior is back in full-time duty for the Cardinal through the remainder of the season – a huge get, as that allows for juniors Taylor Davidson and Caroline Doyle to slide down one spot each, creating significant mismatch potential against all but the most talented teams.
Davidson and Doyle – who round out Stanford’s three-headed monster of a junior class – were doing well in their roles filling in at No. 1 and No. 2 as well: Davidson compiled a 4-5 record in the top singles role, while Doyle was 7-3 on Court 2.
But after they moved down, the true potential of this team became clear: Immediately, the team notched a trio of 7-0 victories, and one of them actually came against a pretty decent team (No. 38 Oregon). Although the Cardinal lost at No. 1 Cal to snap the streak, Stanford swept the doubles point against the Bears and did a great job of holding their own in the bottom half of the singles lineup, where freshman Caroline Lampl and senior Krista Hardebeck picked up wins against tough, higher-ranked opponents as the Bears’ fearsome 1-2-3 punch swallowed up Zhao, Davidson and Doyle.
But don’t expect there to be too many matches where all three of Stanford’s talented juniors fall again, and not even in the tournament, because few teams can match the Cardinal’s talent there – and with Stanford’s dominance in doubles widening its margin for error in every match, the Cardinal are never out of any contest and have the talent and depth to make another dark-horse run in the tournament.
Freshmen Caroline Lampl and Melissa Lord have been tremendous and look to be the biggest future threats on The Farm, with Lampl’s shining 12-2 record in dual play and Lord’s 8-5 mark swallowing up weaker opponents in the bottom half of the singles lineup. Hardebeck has also been phenomenal in the No. 3 role (10-1 dual record) and should be the more talented player at No. 4 in essentially every match Stanford plays from here forward.
The Cardinal women travel to Washington and Washington State this weekend before getting a grudge match against Cal at home to close out the regular season on the 16th. Pac-12s and NCAAs will follow – and make sure to follow this team, because this one might very well be more talented than the squad that shocked the nation and upset its way to a national title in 2013.