May 2, 2011
| Stay tuned to www.gostanford.com's Countdown To The Championships for daily coverage of the 2011 NCAA Men's and Women's Tennis Championships in the form of feature stories, historical profiles, match previews, recaps and other tournament news. One of the nation's finest tennis venues, the Taube Family Tennis Center is playing host to its second combined men's and women's NCAA Tennis Championships, as the tournament's current format was introduced at Stanford in 2006.
In today's edition of Countdown To The Championships, we spotlight senior Greg Hirshman, a true student-athlete in every sense of the word. Playing at the lower half of the lineup, Hirshman's contributions may not always generate headlines. However, he has built a reputation as one of Stanford's most consistent performers.
| "Stanford occupies a unique position at the top of the heap in men's college tennis. They have an incredibly impressive trophy room with about 40 national championship trophies, men's and women's combined. You look around the walls and see all these famous Grand Slam champions. Next thing you know, your guys' mouths are all open and they're walking along the wall going, 'ooo, eee, aahh.' It's like going to a museum; like being at the Louvre or something. There are several places in the country that when you go play there, you're basically down 1-0 before the match starts and I think that's an example of one of them. So we just barred the door and didn't let the guys know that that was available to them."
Baylor's Director of Men's Tennis Matt Knoll, on his team's first visit to Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Stadium. The Bears are the last team to defeat Stanford, winning 5-2 back on Mar. 22.
| Tuesday, May 3: Both Stanford tennis teams are tournament locks. Find out their postseason paths, as the NCAA field is announced.
Wednesday, May 4: The NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships kick off May 25. Find out which Stanford players will be invited.
Thursday, May 5: Home court advantage? That's an understatement. 12 years and 179 matches later, the Stanford women are still protecting Taube.
Tournament Central | NCAA Championships on Facebook
STANFORD, Calif.- Greg Hirshman is pumping his fist and rapidly clapping his hands. Celebrating after every point and questioning any controversial call by the opponent. Keeping tabs on the scoreboard between points.
But Hirshman has already won his singles match. He's doing all of the above from the stands while cheering on a teammate.
Not only has that type of team-first attitude endeared Hirshman to his coaches and teammates, but it's another example of the senior's willingness to put aside his own results and recognize the bigger picture.
Since becoming a regular in Stanford's dual match rotation over the last two seasons, Hirshman has been a mainstay at the bottom of the lineup. Playing matches away from the stadium courts and often against lower-level competition, holding down the No. 5 or 6 spot in a college lineup doesn't usually come with a whole lot of fanfare.
In basketball, you take a charge or dive for a loose ball. In football, you're on the offensive line blocking for the running back or protecting the quarterback. In tennis, you grind out a victory at the bottom of the lineup.
Not many do it better than Hirshman, who has been essentially automatic for Stanford in his career. After posting a 15-1 mark at the No. 6 position as a junior, Hirshman has been steady again this year with an 11-4 record at the No. 5 spot. Hirshman has seen limited playing time recently due to an injury, but is expected back for the postseason.
"Every match is worth one point regardless of where you play," said Hirshman, who last year flourished on the back courts with career-high totals in overall wins (25) and dual match victories (19). "Bradley (Klahn) playing at No. 1 or me playing at No. 5 or 6, they are worth the same. Now obviously Bradley has to beat a better player, but it's very important that I bear down and get those wins. It's just exciting to be a consistent member of the lineup for a top-10 team. It's always been my dream to be able to contribute on such a top team."
The San Diego native has accepted his assignment and succeeded. Hirshman credits the extra work put in over the last two summers, explaining that the most noticeable development in his game took place during the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons.
"Stepping up to the No. 5 spot has certainly been a jump," noted Hirshman. "Last year playing at No. 6, there were a few matches where I really liked my chances. This past summer, I added a few more weapons and tried to become a little bit more of a smarter player even though typically my game is to be smart. I've really learned a few things over the years, having so many matches under my belt. That gives you a sense of how to play the game and really study it."
Hirshman has put in the extra work to stay competitive, offsetting his physical limitations with extensive preparation.
"I certainly wasn't blessed with the best athleticism, the best speed or the best agility," said Hirshman. "But the one thing that I was blessed with was a fight and determination to win. That really carries the day for me. I don't have a pretty game and I'm sure my coaches and teammates would attest to that. Plus, you're talking about playing at the bottom part of the lineup, so I'm not usually going up against the guys who have the huge serves and high rankings. It comes down to who is tougher mentally and willing to battle it out in the trenches."
Almost every time out, that player is Hirshman.
"Greg knows he's not the most talented player in the world, but the guy simply knows how to win matches," stated Stanford head coach John Whitlinger. "That's invaluable. He just figures out what he has to do to win. There are some talented players out there who just don't know what to do sometimes. I love his heart, his desire and what he brings to the table. This team would not be where it is without him."
Stanford's back courts for Nos. 4, 5 and 6 singles may attract fewer spectators, but fans have a reason to gravitate there. Playing a scrappy, gritty style of tennis, Hirshman is demonstrative in his actions during a match, continually fidgeting and talking to himself between points. The pace of his matches can be downright grueling at times, almost slowing to a halt while other contests are cruising along. Hirshman's mannerisms have not only caught the attention of his opponents, but resulted in some good-natured ribbing by his teammates.
"We may laugh more watching his matches than we do anytime else," said fellow senior Alex Clayton. "Greg is really animated out there, and finds a way to stay pumped up even when he's frustrated. For most guys it hurts them to act like that, but he's able to pump himself up. He's crazy on the court but in a way that he's not showing anyone up. We need him to do his thing though, because he is an integral part of the lineup."
"If I'm winning my match, then that sends good vibes," added Hirshman. "If I look over and see Matt (Kandath) or Denis (Lin) get a break, it adds a little extra push of energy to me. So I'm sure when they see me battle or grab a lead, it inspires them as well. That's a big key, building off each other in order to maximize our success as a team."
A true student-athlete in every sense of the word, Hirshman has been just as successful off the court. An economics major with a secondary major in math, the two-time Pac-10 All-Academic First Team honoree has always challenged himself in the classroom. At an awards banquet prior to last year's NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga., Hirshman was one of two first-ever recipients of the Elite 88 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's 88 championships. At the time, Hirshman was carrying a 4.0 GPA.
Hirshman is perhaps equally proud that The Cardinal Principle, a newspaper he founded as a freshman, will continue to live on after he graduates. The quarterly publication consists of articles written by fellow students- including a growing number of student-athletes representing all sports- from all political viewpoints in order to stimulate debate on campus. Hirshman started the newspaper behind the philosophy that individuals should be more encouraging about the views of others and actively engage in dialogue. Two of Hirshman's interview subjects for the publication include former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Steve Westly, while serving as California Campaign Co-Chair for Obama for America.
Now "down" to a 3.98 GPA as he enters his final month of college, Hirshman continues to sustain a high level of academic success. He already knows his next step, which will be taking part in the London School of Finance and Private Equity program.
"I treat academics the same way I do a tennis match," said Hirshman. "It's a battle, a competition and you just have to find a way to win on the tennis court or get an A in your class. You have to be able to work and find a way to succeed."
That much holds true, whether you're balancing a difficult double major or grinding out a victory at No. 5 singles.
- By Brian Risso, Athletic Communications/Media Relations. Special thanks to Niall Adler and Zach Sanderson.