Q&A: Tennis' Bradley Klahn

Sophomore Bradley Klahn, last year's Pac-10 champion in both singles and doubles, sat down with The Bootleg for an interview on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, where the Pac-10 Champion men's and women's teams both open at home this Saturday.

The men will take on Quinnipiac, who went 10-4 in the Northeast Conference this season and make their second trip to the NCAA Tournament, and the women will take on Fairfield, who won the Metro Athletic Atlantic Conference tournament and went 19-5 this season. Matches start at Taube Tennis Center on Saturday, May 15th at 12 p.m.

Question: In the first round the men's team will be taking on Quinnipiac, how much do you know about them?

Klahn: We really don't know too much about them at all, we know they're from Connecticut, they came through the Northeast Conference tournament as the third seed, and they beat a couple opponents who they lost to earlier in the year, but other than that we really don't know too much about them. We're just focusing on ourselves and just trying to prepare ourselves to play the best tennis we can play, really that's the only thing we can worry about. Obviously it's the NCAA Tournament and you can't take anyone lightly though.

Q: Starting at home, do you think that's a big advantage for you guys?

Klahn: Yeah definitely, it's nice to host the first and second rounds, to get a lot of support out there, especially for some of the bigger matches. I think it definitely helps starting off at home, just being in a comfortable setting.

Q: That home-court atmosphere specifically, how big a difference does that make?

Klahn: It's huge, it's nice playing in front of your home crowd, having the support of the fraternity brothers and all that, knowing that they're out there having your back, pulling you through tough times when you need it, or when you're doing well just getting really rowdy, I love that. At the same time, you have to remain calm, you have to remember that you're out there to win the tennis match, which is why I like playing on the road too, being able to shut up the crowd by letting your racket do the talking.

Question: The team seems to be playing well as a whole, how would you gauge the team heading into the NCAA Tournament?

KIahn: I think we ended the year well, wining seven straight matches to end the season; we had a pretty convincing win at Cal, a huge motivational boost. It helped us clinch a share of Pac-10's, and I don't think that had really crossed anyone's minds after losing to USC, we thought USC would win it for sure. We thought they'd beat UCLA, but we were lucky that UCLA opened a hole for us the day before, so that gave us a great opportunity. At Pac-10's we did alright, but we're playing well and we've had a couple good weeks of practicing leading up to NCAA's.

Q: What did the team struggle with this year when they did struggle?

Klahn: I just think we lacked a little bit of confidence here and there, we were close in every match, really the only match that we got our butts handed to us was Texas in the first round of indoors (a 4-0 loss) and that was kind of an early wake-up call for us. Since then, we've been in every match, if just a few points here and there go our way, it's a completely different game. That was the main thing; we just weren't winning those big points in those crucial matches when it came down to crunch time. Maybe that affected some guys' confidence a little bit, we had our ups and downs, but it's better to get that over with at the beginning of the season. I think we're peaking at the right time, I know last year we were rock solid at the beginning of the year then we went through our ups and downs, but that was last year, this year is completely different.

Q: You individually played well in the Pac-10's, losing to Robert Farah in the finals in singles. Were you expecting to win the tournament after winning it your freshman year?

Klahn: I guess you always go in with the expectation to win, at least that's your goal, but at the same time it's tough, the Pac -10 is loaded with talent and there's a lot of great players. I mean, I had to save match points in the second round. But going to each tournament I'm just trying to take it one match at a time, not trying to get too caught up in winning the tournament or defending my title or anything like that, it's just another tournament and we have plenty more to go. As far as doubles are concerned, if you win your freshman year, and then lose in the semis the next year, you're going to be disappointed after having high hopes from the year before, but you got to look big picture, it's about NCAAs.

Q: You shared the Pac-10 title with USC, the No. 5 overall seed, how good is their game? Do you see them as a national title contender?

Klahn: Yeah, I think they're right there in the mix, I think there's a number of teams that can win it this year, the top eight to 10 teams all have a legitimate shot at winning it. Putting a run together over five days, winning four matches in a row against top-level competition is going to be tough, but I think whoever wins will need a little luck as well. I see that the field is very even this year among the top 10 or so teams.

Q: Half of your bracket is made up of teams you've played before this season (UCLA, Pepperdine, Hawaii, Sacramento State, Cal, UC Irvine). Does it give the team confidence knowing that you've played and beaten almost all of these teams this season?

Klahn: I think so, it might be nice to see some fresh faces in your draw, but at the same time, the way they run the NCAA Tournament you know you're going to see a lot of the same teams, but I definitely think it gives us some confidence knowing that we've beaten these teams. But when we play them it's a new day, we have to go out and be ready to go, give it our all and leave it all out there. I mean, this is it; it's win or go home.

Q: No. 1 overall seed Virginia is also in your bracket, how do you think you would match up against Virginia in the elite eight should you get there?

Klahn: I think it'd be a great match, they've obviously done very well this entire season, winning ITA Indoors, only losing one match early in the season, I think it'd be a great match, it'd be very competitive, but we can't look that far ahead, we're focused on Quinnipiac, then Pepperdine or Hawaii, not even to mention UCLA in the round of 16. We have a long ways to go before we get there.

Q: Supposing you guys make it to Georgia, do you think that's a major advantage for East Coast teams or that going West Coast to East Coast won't be that big a deal?

Klahn: I don't think it'd be a big deal, we get out there early enough to get acclimated, and we get out there three days before. Maybe teams being used to the humidity a little bit more might be an advantage, but practicing in warm weather and not trying to worry about the conditions too much, just adjust as well as you can and keep fighting for every point.

Q: What do you think the atmosphere will be like in Georgia? Similar to last year in College Station, TX?

Klahn: I think being in Georgia the atmosphere will be great, they have such a good tradition of college tennis and hosting NCAAs, they always bring the crowds, especially for a Georgia match. I don't know a place like it really. They just pack the stands and are right on top of you. It's a nice college town that gets really into it. I'm looking forward to it, it should be a lot of fun, should we make it there.

Q: You and Ryan Thacher are the third-best team doubles in the nation, who are the other good teams and how do you stack up against them?

Klahn: USC's Robert Farah and Steve Johnson (this year's Pac-10 doubles champions) are tough, they've gotten us the last few times, and UCLA's Nick Meister and Amit Inbar have gotten us the last few times as well. Duke and Tennessee's No. 1 and 2 seeds too, so there's a lot of tough teams out there, we will need to be focused and play well throughout the entire tournament.

Q: What makes you two so good as a doubles team?

Klahn: He's got a big serve and can cover the net well, he's helped me be more aggressive at the net, because I've sometimes deferred a little bit when we're up at the net or been a little too tentative. We both have serves that we should be able to hold, so it's just about getting one or two breaks for us. In the fall we were really focused and intense, we didn't give many people opportunities to get into matches, so hopefully we can look back to when we won ITA Indoors. There are just a few things here and there that we can keep improving on.

Q: How would you assess your chances of winning singles?

Klahn: There's a lot of good players out there, every team has their top player in the draw, and every match I've played this year the top player has been tough, but I think that I've been playing well. I've been working on trying to shore up the holes in my game, I think I've made a lot of improvements even since the beginning of this school year. Just peaking in May has been the common goal and theme for our team this year, I think I have a shot to do well, but it's going to require me to play well, play solid, smart, focused, intense tennis for six days, and not take anyone lightly.

Q: What have you been working on both mechanically and mentally, how do you focus on peaking at the right time?

Klahn: It's a lot of tactical stuff, just knowing where to hit shots, playing high-percentage tennis, I know I've been working on my backhand a lot, my forehand is my big weapon and I want to look to hit that whenever I can, but your backhand has to be solid as a rock too so guys can't feel like they can exploit that. I feel like I've shored up my backhand that much better. I'm always working on my serve too, that's the one thing you have total control over. It's your best shot to win the point, that and they volleys. Also trying to stay calm, in the dual matches I get pretty fired up, trying to get the crowd into it, but it can affect… sometimes it zaps energy that I could be seizing on during the points and not after the points.

As far as the women's team is concerned, how would you assess their chances of winning it all?

Klahn: I think their record speaks for itself this year, I think they're 18-1, only one loss to UCLA back in February. I think they have a great shot to win, they beat a lot of tough teams pretty handily, they didn't play NCAA Indoors this year so they haven't played a lot of top teams I guess, but I think they have a very legitimate shot to win this year. I mean, [Junior Hilary Barte] has been a top player all three years, and she's always been in the top ten. It'll be interesting to see how well they do.

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