Rising in the Rankings

Reuters

At Stanford, he was a little guy with a big achievement, starring on the only Cardinal tennis teams to win four consecutive NCAA championships. At 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, he's still outplaying taller, stronger opponents, these days as a pro.

Ranked No. 65 going into the U.S. Open last August, Paul Goldstein had already earned a half-million dollars and established himself as one of the pro tour's few up-and-coming Americans. During his swift rise from the horde of unknowns, he had beaten such Top Tenners as Alex Corretja and Greg Rusedski. Quite a feat for a guy who readily admits that, during his first appearances in international pro events, "I didn't even feel comfortable about going up to players to get myself a warm-up partner, so I just went into my matches without warming up."

John Whitlinger, '76, associate head of Cardinal men's tennis, says he fully expected his star pupil to shine: "Whatever Paul touches in anything turns to gold." But Goldstein's successes caught others off guard. In 1998, the book on the rookie was simple and negative: too small, no "weapons" like a huge serve or a bombastic forehand. Goldstein still bristles at the critique. "I've heard that since I was 12," he retorts. "I think I'm able to neutralize the opponent's weapons and play defense better than 90 percent of the guys out there. That's a weapon, too."

Another, even subtler weapon is maturity. Unlike most top college players, Goldstein did not quit school to pursue the big bucks. He "didn't even consider" that, he says, because he needed to develop physically and emotionally to withstand the grind of the pro circuit.

Emotionally? You bet. "That's the most important thing," Goldstein says. "In college, I won maybe four or five matches for every one I lost. In the pros, you lose every week. When that happens, the perspectives you develop at a place like Stanford help you stay on an even keel."

When he lost early in the U.S. Open, Goldstein briefly considered leaving pro tennis, but now he says he has no plans to quit. His next goal: ranking in the top 50. In recent months, acknowledging what he calls "my own limitations," he has been beefing up his slight frame and charting the improvements he feels he must make in his game. What improvements? "I have to serve bigger and more consistently, compete better, especially when I'm ahead, and turn the short balls I get into winners."

The book on him now reads: can do.