Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 15, 2010

Stanford men and women are hoping to ace their big tennis expectations

by Rick Eymer

There's really only one big question this year as the Stanford men's and women's tennis teams prepare to begin their spring seasons for keeps this weekend:

Will some women's team bring enough kryptonite to Taube Tennis Center and finally bring the Super Streak to an end?

The 151-match home winning streak is addressed, and then ignored, by Cardinal coach Lele Forood. There are more pressing issues and 99.9 percent of them involve getting better at tennis every practice, every match.

The Stanford men, with several top recruiting classes in the mix, have only to work to bring forth their awesome potential. There are a lot of good, potentially championship, college teams out there, and the Cardinal is one of them.

"I can't wait to get started," Stanford men's coach John Whitlinger said. "I want to see where we're at, what we can improve and to see how other teams are doing."

Senior Richard Wire, junior Alex Clayton and freshman Bradley Klahn will lead a formidable ladder into competition. All three have played No. 1 singles at some point in their Stanford careers.

Wire and Clayton share captain duties this year.

"Rich is a guy we count on heavily," Whitlinger said. "He'll probably play 3 or 4 and that's pretty good experience at that position."

The six-player singles ladder could be in constant flux this season as quality players are right behind the top three, willing to take over. That also means the doubles competition will be quite heated.

"We're pretty deep and it will come down to who plays better at 4, 5 and 6," Whitlinger said. "We need strength down there."

Both teams participate in tournaments this weekend. Dual-match play opens the following week with the men hosting Sacramento State at 1 p.m. on Jan. 23. The women host Hawaii on Jan. 27.

It's been 10 years since the Stanford men won their 18th NCAA team title, but after last year's 20-6 record and reaching the Round of 16 at the NCAA tournament, the expectations are higher this year.

"We felt we were one of the top five teams in the country last year," Whitlinger said. "We ran into a hot USC team (seeded eighth) in the Round of 16 that went on to win it all. There are at least 12 teams which can win the national title. There is just so much more depth than there was 10 years ago."

The ninth-ranked Cardinal features the past two national Newcomers of the Year.

Wire, a career 10-4 playing No. 1 singles and 36-19 at other spots, hopes to help end the long drought. He's a former all-Pac-10 pick and ITA regional singles champion.

Clayton owns a 26-11 mark playing at the No. 1 spot. He's been named first team all-Pac-10 and an All-American the past two years. He reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament as a freshman and was named ITA National Rookie of the Year as a result. He made it to the quarterfinals last year. He owns 32 (of 61 career wins) victories over nationally-ranked opponents.

Senior Paul Morrissey and juniors Greg Hirshman and Ted Kelly add depth to the lineup. Hirshman owns a career mark of 36-21, including a 23-11 record in dual meets.

Klahn is the reigning ITA National Rookie of the Year after winning both the Pac-10 singles and doubles championships and 35 of his 44 matches. He was 20-5 in dual matches, including a 7-1 mark playing No. 1 singles.

Sophomores Ryan Thatcher and Sacred Heart Prep grad Jamie Hutter are part of Stanford's deepest team in years. Thatcher was a Pac-10 pick last year after compiling a 20-9 (19-7 dual meet) overall mark. Thatcher also joined Klahn as the conference's doubles champion.

Freshmen Denis Lin, Walker Kehrer and Matt Kandath have known each other, played with or against one another, for a number of years on the junior circuit. With Samuel Ecker, Wisconsin's third-ranked player, many observers feel this was the top recruiting class in the nation.

The men are at the Sherwood Cup in Thousand Oaks beginning Friday.

For the women, Lindsay Burdette is the lone senior. She'll be joined by her sister Mallory, a freshman. Except for a brief one-year interruption, there has been a Burdette playing tennis for Stanford since 2002, when Erin came to school.

Erin, though, is the only Burdette to play on a national championship team. Lindsay and Mallory both hope to make it a trifecta in the family this season.

The 13th-ranked Cardinal (19-5 last year) has a prestigious home record that defies description. Stanford is actually 203-1 at the Taube Tennis Center since the beginning of the 1996 season.

Three Pac-10 teams — No. 3 California, No. 9 USC and No. 12 UCLA — are currently ranked ahead of Stanford. The Women of Troy will, likely, get the first chance to break Stanford's homecourt streak on April 2. Check their bags for any suspicious green rocks.

Three Stanford players are ranked nationally in singles, including two in the top 20. Mallory Burdette is at No. 16, two spots ahead of junior Hilary Barte, the team's No. 1 singles player the past two years, at No. 18. Junior Carolyn McVeigh is No. 78.

Barte holds a gaudy 41-2 record at No. 1 singles and is 44-5 in dual meets (65-14 overall). The four-time All-American (two in each singles and doubles) was last year's Pac-10 Player of the Year. The 2008 ITA National Rookie of the Year reached the Round of 16 in last year's NCAA singles tournament. Barte owns a career 44-12 record against nationally ranked opponents.

McVeigh is 32-6 playing 3, 4, or 5 singles and is 38-11 in dual meets. She also has a career doubles mark of 38-10.

Junior Jennifer Yen (24-15), and sophomores Logan Hansen (11-10) and Veronica Li (19-11) all own winning records in singles.

Stacey Tan and Natalie Dillon join Mallory Burdette as the top rated recruiting class by tennisrecruiting.net.

Tan has played Challenger and ITF events since 2006 and received a wild card into last July's Bank of the West Classic.

The women's team sends teams to the Freeman Invitational in Las Vegas, and the NCTC Classic in Indian Wells.

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