Many other teams around the country would call it a successful season with just the Sweet 16 berth that No. 11 Stanford women’s tennis earned this weekend. But for Stanford, it’s just business as usual.
The defending national champion Cardinal (18-2, 8-2 Pac-12) made a huge splash in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, cruising to twin 4-0 victories on Friday and Saturday, first in the round of 64 against Quinnipiac (13-11, 8-0 MAAC) and then in the round of 32 against No. 53 Long Beach State (21-3, 8-0 Big West) to clinch their spot in Athens, Georgia for the final rounds of the tournament.
“I definitely think these two wins have contributed to our confidence,” said freshman Caroline Doyle. “We’re definitely heading into Athens with a lot of confidence and energy and we’re hoping to really prevail there.”
After the Cardinal had received a surprisingly low No. 11 seed for this year’s tournament, the team felt that it had something to prove in these early rounds and made its presence felt on the courts early and often over the weekend.
“I think we’ve got something to show for now,” said junior Ellen Tsay. “It’s almost good in a sense; we’re going to prove what we should actually be seeded just by our performance, so it serves as additional motivation.”
On Saturday, seemingly nothing could slow the Cardinal down — even the two-hour delay that the team had to sit through before it could get on the courts. With the match preceding Stanford’s — the other first-round match hosted by Stanford between Long Beach State and Tulsa — turning into a marathon match that took Long Beach State five hours to eventually win, the Cardinal’s slated start time of 2 p.m. was pushed back to just after 4 p.m.
But the Cardinal were quick to make up for lost time, effortlessly cruising to victory in under 90 minutes against an outmatched Quinnipiac squad that had no answers for Stanford’s power and depth on any of the courts.
Although the tenth-ranked doubles pairing of senior Kristie Ahn and freshman Carol Zhao took a more methodical pace on court one, its score ultimately did not matter due to the quick, efficient dominance on the other two courts from Stanford’s other pairs.
Tsay and freshman Taylor Davidson — ranked No. 50 in the nation — cruised past junior Michelle Dassa and junior Jacqueline Raynor in an 8-0 rout that established an increasingly frustrated tone in the play of the pair from Quinnipiac. Just minutes later, Doyle and senior Amelia Herring wrapped up their own quick 8-1 victory on court three to clinch the doubles point and get the Cardinal off to a roaring start.
It was just a sign of things to come for the Cardinal, which never looked back in the singles portion of the match. Tsay and Doyle were ruthlessly efficient on the backcourts, notching twin 6-0, 6-0 victories in the blink of an eye to put Stanford ahead 3-0 before Quinnipiac even had a chance to catch its breath. It didn’t take long for sophomore Krista Hardebeck to claim the clincher on court two with a 6-0, 6-1 victory to bury the Bobcats.
“I think we made a statement by not dropping too many games and getting off the courts really quickly, especially after the long wait,” Tsay said. “I think that prepares us really well for tomorrow and we’re excited to move on.”
On Saturday against Long Beach State in a very windy second-round matchup, the upped difficulty in the level of competition was more pronounced, with the doubles point becoming a hard-fought, back-and-forth affair that dragged on for over an hour.
Davidson and Tsay were able to establish control in their match to a greater extent than their teammates on the other two courts, and the pair was the first finished with an 8-5 win on court two. Meanwhile, on court one, Ahn and Zhao were still fiercely battling in a dead heat after bouncing back from a 3-5 deficit. That match would ultimately prove inconsequential, however, as Doyle and Herring were able to pull out a 7-5 tiebreaker that clinched a very evenly-matched competition on court three and give Stanford the doubles point.
After the tough doubles matchup, singles went much more smoothly all around the board for the Cardinal, with Tsay and Doyle again plowing through their opponents with ease. Tsay won her first 20 singles games of the tournament before finally dropping one in the second set to freshman Hayley Thompson en route to a 6-0, 6-1 victory. Doyle had another easy time in a 6-2, 6-1 victory that ultimately provided the clincher and punched the Cardinal’s ticket to the Sweet 16. Zhao provided the other point with a 6-1, 6-1 effort on court three.
With the win, Doyle clinched her 18th win in her last 20 matches and improved her record to a team-leading 30-5.
“I think the backside [courts four, five and six] has been doing really well,” Doyle said. “Obviously I can’t see the stadium; I’m sure they’ve been doing equally as well, but on the backside we’ve had a lot of really good energy and we’ve been cheering each other on. It’s been tough conditions for the last two days but we haven’t really let it get to us and we’ve taken care of what we needed to take care of.”
Although Zhao and Hardebeck were having an easy time in the stadium as well, the same could not be said for Ahn, who was playing in the final match of her Stanford career at home in Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
The normally steadfast senior and third-ranked singles player in the nation was having trouble with her control and was expressing lots of frustration at her uncharacteristically frequent unforced errors throughout the afternoon.
“As far as her college career, I’m sure it was in her mind a little bit,” said head coach Lele Forood. “The conditions were really rough, and she’s a really precise hitter. She does a lot of things at the last moment to the ball, and in this kind of wind, you really can’t play like that. She was frustrating herself with some of that.”
Despite the struggles and falling behind late, however, Ahn was still locked in her first-set tiebreak when her match was abandoned due to Stanford’s victory and she thus left her final weekend at home not having lost any sets.
The confident Cardinal will next head to Athens, Georgia, the host of this year’s national tournament, to take on fierce rival No. 6 Cal in the Sweet 16. It will be the teams’ third meeting of the season, with the Cardinal having won the first before the Golden Bears won the second in the regular-season finale. The match will get underway at 9 a.m. on Thursday with a berth in the Elite Eight on the line.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.