Feature: No Team Play, But Bruch, Muller Move On

May 23, 2007

By Elizabeth Pratt
The Stanford Daily

May 23, 2007

Stanford, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- The pinnacle of college tennis achievement is the NCAA Championships, and not just for teams. After Stanford men's tennis was unable to qualify as a squad, two Cardinal members are starting the NCAA Individual Championships today - and the stakes are high.

'These are the best of the best; all the best college players are here,' assistant coach David Hodge said. 'This is the one everyone wants to win.'

Sophomore Matt Bruch will represent Stanford in the singles competition, starting today. Bruch will also team with sophomore Blake Muller to contend for the doubles championship, which kicks off tomorrow.

In singles, Bruch will take on Mississippi junior Erling Tveit, ranked No. 13 nationally, at 11:30 a.m. EST. A win would pit him against Ohio State's Bryan Koniecko or Vanderbilt's Ryan Preston in Thursday's second round.

He will be looking for revenge against Tveit, who knocked him out of the second round of last year's NCAA Championships, 7-6, 7-5.

According to Hodge, Bruch's elevated mental game will help him in the rematch.

'His maturity level on court has really improved,' Hodge said. 'Mentally, what he's doing really well is handling adversity a lot better.'

In doubles, the No. 12 pair of Bruch and Muller will square off against Nicolas Delgado and Pedro Graber of Virginia Tech, ranked No. 19 in the country. If the Cardinal duo defeats Delgado/Graber on Thursday, it will advance to the Round of 16 on Friday. They would play either Dimitar Kutrovsky and Josh Zavala of Texas or No. 9 Mariusz Adamski and Todd Paul of Wake Forest.

Despite the crowded field, Hodge likes his team's chances to go all the way.

'If they combine with each other the way they have been [throughout the season], they're going to do really well,' he said. 'We're expecting them to go deep into the draw.'

Hodge added that Bruch and Muller have grown mentally as a pair this year. He said they have a better understanding of their individual strengths as doubles players and how they complement each other.

'They're a little sharper with their moves, and a lot more confident and aggressive,' he said.

These assets have certainly helped them in the current season. One of the most successful doubles tandems in the country, the duo posted a 16-3 overall record, going 12-3 in dual matches and 5-0 against nationally ranked opponents. Their spotless profile against ranked teams includes victories over Duke's top-10 team of Joey Atas and David Goulet and UCLA's top-20 tandem of Benjamin Kohlloeffel and Philipp Gruendler.

Bruch and Miller capped conference play this season by claiming the Pac-10 doubles championship, defeating Southern California's No. 43 Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof in the final to automatically qualify for the NCAA's 32-team field.

'We've been playing pretty well all year round, and nothing's really changed,' Muller said. 'Our goal is to win it. Anything less, and I'll be a little disappointed.'

Despite missing much of the 2006-2007 season due to injury, Bruch received an invitation to the singles championship on the basis of his Pac-10 singles title. Beating three nationally-ranked players in the process, Bruch jumped from outside the top 125 to No. 58 nationally.

Some years, wild cards into the main draw of the U.S. Open are awarded to the winners of the NCAA singles and doubles championships. That enough would motivate many players to do their best. But for Muller, it's all about bringing back the title and finishing the season right.

'You train hard and practice all year, and this is where you want to be,' Muller said. 'I'm here to win it.'

(C) 2007 The Stanford Daily via CSTV U-WIRE

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