Men's NCAA Tennis Individuals Preview

Your attention has been duly focused the past 24 hours on the Stanford women, but the Cardinal's top men are now back in action as we begin the individuals portion of these 2006 Men's Tennis NCAA Championships. Singles get underway today, with a Cardinal freshman leading the way. Doubles action starts Thursday. How can Stanford stack up, and who are the favorites? Frank Brennan has the answers.

Uncharacteristic rainy weather has stilted some enthusiasm and diluted fan support for the team championships the last few days.  The Stanford men, after an exciting and groundbreaking win over #4-seeded Duke, lost in a quarterfinal thriller that ended just before midnight on Sunday night at the San Francisco Tennis Club.  After whipping archrival Florida 4-0 in the semis, the top-seeded Cardinal women bested Miami 4-1 on Tuesday afternoon to win their third consecutive NCAA title.  Now, it's on to the individual championships.

Benjamin Kohlloeffel from UCLA is the reigning indoor champ and #1 seed in singles.  Of course, this is an outdoor tourney (ahem, ahem) so you might prefer the Georgia giant John Isner, who won the All-American title outdoors in October.  If you like the hot players, Miami's Luigi D'Agord is on an 18-match win streak.  If you like to bet the stable, the last two singles winners were from Baylor, and #4 seed Lars Poerschke (a Baylor sophomore) is dangerous.  With Memorial Day coming up fast, I like the only American among the top seeds: Georgia's 6'9" Isner.  To paraphrase a famous basketball coach who was asked if he preferred speed or height, he chose height pointing out that at the end of a long game, speedy players slowed up but his big guy was still seven feet tall.

Stanford has the ITA National Rookie of the Year in Matt Bruch from Lake Forest, Ill.  Matt is the Pac-10 singles champion and looks Roddick-like to me, with Coach Whit playing the part of Brad Gilbert as coach.  This kid could be the one to lead us back to the "promised land" (isn't there something in the bible about that?).  Veteran KC Corkery (2006 team captain) has played and beaten almost everyone in the draw, and if he is not too dinged up could challenge for the title.

Moving on to doubles there are two Big Ten teams (Illinois and Ohio State) among the top four seeds, with West Coast teams (from Pepperdine and UCLA) filling in the other two slots.  The men's doubles field looks loaded with four teams who could make an argument as the favorite.

Scott Green and Ross Wilson, representing the Buckeyes, are the #1 seed and have won three national doubles titles, so they know how it works.  Gruendler and Kohlloeffel, pride of Westwood, have won 23 of their last 24 matches - could it be a double Bruin celebration for Kohlleoffel, who is a singles favorite?  The Aussie-German duo of Scott Doerner and Andre Beyerman are the #3 seed from the Pepperdine Waves, and I never bet against Aussies in doubles – it's in their DNA.  Illinois has had two NCAA doubles winners since 2000, so Anderson and Rowe certainly earn a look.  However, former Illini coach Craig Tiley was the doubles guru so maybe the doubles magic has left Champaign.  Finally, the Georgia team of Isner and Ruiz has lots of history and all of it good.  They are the defending champions, and if favored Georgia won the team title they could have ridden that wave of emotion to be the first repeat champions since USC's Stan Smith and Bobby Lutz in 1967-68...  However, they did lose in the team finals to Doerner/Beyerman.

Stanford is represented in this years doubles draw by junior James Pade and 2004 champ (with Sam Warburg) KC Corkery.  The Cardinal men lost a quarterfinal heartbreaker in the team but should feel good about themselves by the start of doubles play on Thursday.  KC has shown he can get along successfully with different partners (unless the former child actor was well….acting).  "Getting along" is a prime factor in successful combos, and when I was asked how I put my doubles teams together, I would flippantly answer, "I see who sits together on the bus."  A tip for young players: "he who sits alone doesn't play doubles."  Corkery and Pade better be ready as they will face Anderson/Rowe, the #3 seeds, in the opening round.

The individual men's tourney starts Wednesday, and we have finally been promised traditional NorCal weather for the remainder of the event.  Singles and doubles play will begin at a Wimbledon-like starting time of 11:00 AM most days and probably finish under lights.  The men's and women's finals (for both singles and doubles) are scheduled for Monday afternoon.  With so many German men among the top seeds, the Memorial Day weekend festivities may be as American as "apple strudel."

Frank Brennan was the Stanford Women's Tennis Coach for 21 seasons (1980-2000), winning an amazing 10 NCAA crowns during that span.  He amassed a remarkable 510-50 (.911) overall dual match record, and his players won nine NCAA singles and three NCAA doubles titles.  Brennan was Intercollegiate Tennis Association's "Coach of the Decade" for both the 1980's and the 1990's.  Brennan's teams won six consecutive NCAA championships from 1986-91, reached the Final Four 18 times and registered a then-record 76-dual match winning streak.  He was named to the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001 and was inducted into the Intercollegiate Hall of Fame in 2006.

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