Peter Wright: California Ends No. 1 Stanford's 75-match Home Winning Streak
Feb. 25, 2002
The 17th-ranked University of California men's tennis team traveled to Stanford last Saturday to take on No. 1 Stanford. The Cardinal, throughout Pac-10 tennis history, has been a tennis juggernaut, and held a 75 home match-winning streak entering the match with Cal, dating back to 1996. To make matters worse, Stanford held a 110-66-2 record over the Bears, and Cal had not beaten them during head coach Peter Wright's career, with the losing streak dating back to 1991. In his own words, Wright describes what transpired on Saturday, calling it 'one of the most exciting matches I've ever seen.'
We lost the doubles point by losing at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles. But at the top doubles court, Robert Kowalczyk and John Paul Fruttero were battling with the ninth-ranked duo of KJ Hippensteel and Ryan Haviland. Fruttero and Kowalczyk went on to win the match 8-6, and even though Stanford won the doubles point, it gave the team a little spark to help start the singles.
My talk with the guys during the five-minute break was simple: Don't worry about the doubles, just win the singles. But things didn't look good when Conor Niland lost at the fourth court to Ryan Haviland (No. 37) in straight sets, and Balazs Veress lost at No. 2 to Scott Lipsky (No. 45) also in straight sets. Stanford 3, Cal 0.
A bright spot for us was freshman Mik Ledvonova who was playing at No. 6 against Phil Sheng. Mik toughed out the first set 7-5 and then cruised 6-0 in the second set. Stanford 3, Cal 1.
That is when things started to get exciting. Fruttero, Wayne Wong and Kowalczyk were all in their third sets. Fruttero was playing Hippensteel, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the country. Hippensteel served with the score at 3-4 in the 3rd. Fruttero then played some very solid points to break Hippensteel and go up 5-3. Fruttero then served out the match like a champ to claim the victory. Stanford 3, Cal 2.
I quickly went to the third court where Wayne Wong had just broken David Martin's serve to go up 5-3 in the third set. Martin, ranked No. 19, fought hard to stay in the match. The Stanford fans all moved to that court and some of them began taunting Wong from the stands. They were talking between his serves and trying to break him under the pressure. Wong was down break point and Martin had just hit an approach and was coming to the net. Wong hit a beautiful topspin lob that Martin literally fell on his back trying to hit, but he didn't touch the ball and it landed in. Deuce. I told Wayne that this felt like a hostile Davis Cup atmosphere (Wong plays in the Davis Cup for Hong Kong) and we had a little chuckle. Wong won the next point, putting him within one of the match, and he clinched the match with a forehand winner. He pumped his fists with excitement, while the Cardinal crowd didn't know what to do with themselves. Stanford 3, Cal 3.
Kowalczyk was still on the fifth court, playing Stanford's freshman Sam Warburg. Warburg was down 3-5 in the third set and the game score was tied at 15 when I got there. Kowalczyk seemed to be in control and he got it to match point. Warburg played a very good point, which ended with a volley winner. Warburg went on to win the game which meant Kowalczyk would serve for the entire match at 5-4. Unfortunately, things don't always go the way they should. Warburg was somehow inspired by the moment and he proceeded to rip winners from every part of the court. He broke Kowalczyk's serve in four straight points to tie the score at five and then he held easily to make it 5-6 with Kowalczyk serving to stay in the match.
To his credit, Kowalczyk wasn't playing poorly, he was just being outplayed. He lost 11 points in a row. My stomach was churning. Lan Bale, our assistant coach, had been doing a wonderful job helping Kowalczyk keep his composure. It looked like Stanford was going to get away with the match. But Robert managed to hold serve after being down 0-15 to take it to a third set tie-breaker.
The whole day was going to be decided by the tie-breaker. In nervous anticipation we watched as Kowalczyk played passing shot after passing shot in truly inspired tennis. He went up 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, 6-0. Kowalczyk now had 6 match points and we knew better than to think it was over, but we didn't think we were going to lose. That's when Warburg started playing better. 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. This was no longer fun, let's get it over with, I thought. Kowalczyk served at 6-3 and lost the point when Warburg hit a return winner. Now if Kowalczyk loses the next point the tie-breaker will be back on serve. Kowalczyk serving 6-4. Missed first serve. Second serve in, rally, Warburg approach, Kowalczyk hits a good shot, Warburg is there for the volley, but Kowalczyk's shot touches the top of the net and hits Warburg's racket and floats harmlessly out. Game, set and match. The Cal team mobs Kowalczyk. Cal 4, Stanford 3, final.