He's a big fish in a big pond

Publication Date: Friday Apr 7, 2000

MEN'S COLLEGE TENNIS: He's a big fish in a big pond

Geoff Abrams' steady improvement ranks him among best 4-year players in Stanford history

by Keith Peters

Geoff Abrams wasn't actually a fish out of water when he arrived at Stanford four seasons ago. He was an accomplished junior tennis player, having competed at that level in the U.S. Open, French Open and at Wimbledon. Yet, college tennis was something quite different.

"I was a little fish in a big pond," Abrams acknowledged.

Gracing the lineup of the Stanford men's team in 1997 was Ryan Wolters, Paul Goldstein and a couple of pretty good freshmen lookalikes named Bryan. "They were all better than me, and they deserved to play ahead of me," Abrams said.

Abrams, a talented 6-foot-4 athlete from Newport Beach, did break into the singles and doubles lineups his freshman year and began a steady climb that has taken him to heights never before reached by anyone in Stanford tennis history.

"He has the best winning percentage ever, of anyone who's been here four years," said Dick Gould, in his 34th season as Stanford's head coach. "He's risen from 5 or 6 on the team to No. 2 in singles, and from No. 3 in doubles to No. 1 in the country."

Abrams heads into this weekend's final Pacific-10 Conference home matches, against No. 1 UCLA today (1:30 p.m.) and USC on Saturday (noon), with a 13-2 dual-match record. For his career, Abrams is 79-10 (.890). Not only is his winning percentage the best in school history for four-year players, but he's closing in on Wolters' school record of 90 career dual-match victories.

The only players with more career wins are Jeff Salzenstein (81), Goldstein (84), Alex O'Brien (89) and Wolters.

"In college, given the competition we have, which varies from year to year and generation to generation, he (Abrams) has done better than anyone we've ever had--in terms of won-loss percentage--in singles as well as doubles," Gould said.

Abrams also has the best mark ever (26-0) for dual-match victories in a single season, an achievement he downplays.

"The 26-0 came mainly at 5 and 6 singles, and I still had Ryan, Paul and the (Bryan) twins playing ahead of me," Abrams said. "It was very nice to have that record, but I knew that somebody playing at 1, 2 or 3 looks at that and says, 'Well, he's playing 5 or 6. He should win those matches.'

"So, it was nice to have it, but it didn't really change my perspective of where I fit in (in Stanford tennis history) . . . When you're playing down at 5 or 6, you don't get a chance to play a lot of the top guys in the nation. Even if you go 26-0, that's great, but people don't recognize it because you're not up at the top playing the best players."

Abrams, however, has earned the reputation of being a big fish in a big pond these days. In his first two season, he contributed in both singles and doubles to a pair of NCAA team titles--the final two in Stanford's amazing streak of four straight. Last season, with the Bryan twins leaving school early for the pro ranks and Goldstein graduating to the tour, as well, Abrams seized the opportunity to move up the ladder and prove himself as one of the nation's best.

He went 22-4 in dual matches as a junior while playing at No. 2 singles. This season, Abrams is off to a 13-2 mark--having won 10 straight matches to earn a No. 9 ranking nationally in singles. Abrams also teams with junior Alex Kim to form the No. 1 doubles tandem in the country.

With Abrams, the team's only senior, leading the way, Stanford takes a 15-0 record into this weekend and the nation's No. 4 ranking. Surprisingly, the Cardinal fell one spot from third, despite sweeping the Arizona schools last weekend. Pepperdine, which suffered its first loss of the season, actually moved ahead of Stanford in the ITA rankings.

Those teams will meet April 18 at Taube Family Tennis Stadium in Stanford's final regular-season home match.

With eight matches remaining, the Cardinal are 89-5 during Abrams' career. No Stanford team has produced such a four-year mark since the school began playing tennis in the late 1920s.

The reason for that is due, in part, to the 28-0 record produced by the 1998 NCAA championship squad. The Cardinal had so much talent that season, that "it was ridiculous," Abrams noted. Stanford lost only two singles points and one doubles point all season.

As enjoyable that season was, however, Abrams believes this season has a chance to be more satisfying.

"For me, personally, it can," he said. "We have four freshmen this year and I'm the captain. I'm not the father figure at all, but I've given them some answers . . . It would be nice to look back, if we win the championship, and say, 'yeah, I helped these guys.'"

Even if that were to happen, Abrams likely wouldn't see himself among the school's all-time greats.

"No, not at all," he said. "There have been so many great players who have come by here. Those guys start out at No. 3, 2 or even No. 1. I'm just a guy who came in and played No. 5 or 6 for two years.

"To be honest, I feel fortunate just playing up at the top. I wish I could say, yeah, I'm going to go on to a successful pro career, which may happen. But, no, I definitely don't group myself with those guys."

Gould said it's unfair to compare Abrams with many of Stanford's past greats--John McEnroe, Roscoe Tanner, Sandy Mayer, Alex O'Brien and John Whitlinger, to name a few--because Abrams has yet to test himself on the pro circuit and may never fully realize his potential because of his pre-med career.

"He continues to get better, but it's hard because he's pre-med," Gould said. "This is the first quarter, I think, in the last two years that he didn't have a lab in the afternoon, which cut his practice time from five days to four."

Abrams also has been busy as treasurer and president of his fraternity, as well as being involved in a number of outside activities.

"He's a little bit of everything," Gould said. "He's a busy guy."

While Abrams is still looking for his first-ever All-American recognition and would like to cap his career with one more NCAA team title and perhaps his first individual one, he's already left his mark.

"If you're comparing him to those guys who have won NCAAs or were close to it, then I'd say he's the same," Gould said. "He's the whole package."

For sure, Geoff Abrams is no little fish. 

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