The No. 16 Stanford Cardinal (5-2) shocked the No. 7 Florida Gators (5-2) with a 4-3 victory on Sunday at home in the Taube Family Tennis Center.
The contest showcased two of the perennial powerhouses of women’s college tennis. The win was the Stanford’s fourth straight, which has bounced back since dropping two of its first three matches. Despite coming in as the underdog, the Cardinal kept every match close in front of a packed crowd that gave them the raucous support they needed down the stretch.
“This match was an important step for our team. [I was most proud] of everyone’s fighting resiliency,” said head coach Lele Forood. “All the matches were real roller-coasters. We weathered the bad when the Florida girls got really good, but we kept fighting and it was a really good performance by everybody. It was so perfect to be able to clinch this today.”
The Cardinal started the match off on the wrong foot, dropping the important doubles point 2-1. Juniors Caroline Doyle and Taylor Davidson, the No. 3 doubles team in the nation, took down the No. 7 team of sophomore Brooke Austin and Junior Kourtney Keegan, 6-2. However, in the other matches, the Gators took both 6-2.
The team didn’t let the lost point phase them, however, as all of the Stanford women played extremely well in the competitive singles matches, with five of six going to the third set.
The Cardinal benefitted from the temporary surprise return of junior Carol Zhao, who has been taking time off from college tennis to train for the Canadian National Team. Last year, she finished as the runner-up at the NCAA Individual Championships and was ranked as the No. 1 player in the country in preseason polls. She won her match against Brooke Austin, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 and is expected to return full-time in April.
Davidson had to work hard to win her first set 7-6 at No. 2, saving several set points against No. 6 Belinda Woolcock of Florida. In the second, she played more confidently and consistently, taking the set and the match 6-2.
Doyle came out of the gate hot in singles at No. 3, taking the first set 6-1. Her opponent Keegan struck back, however, taking the second 1-6. In the third, Doyle took an early 4-0 lead, but Keegan quickly responded and forced a tie-break. Davidson, remaining cool and calm, took the tiebreak 7-5 to give Stanford its third victory of the day.
All eyes turned to the back courts as senior Krista Hardebeck took on Josie Kuhlman in the deciding match on Court 4. In the deciding third set, she had four match points while up 5-4, but she could not convert.
While many players might have mentally collapsed at that point, Hardebeck kept her resolve and continued to play solid tennis, clinching the third set and the match 7-5 to give her team a much-needed victory.
However, this was not the first time that Hardbeck clinched a match against Florida, as she had famously done so in her freshman and sophomore years, too — in pressure-packed situations, no less. For her, however, this one topped them all.
“This was a really cool experience for me, as it was probably the last time I’ll ever play Florida,” the senior said. “It was awesome to put my footprint on this team’s legacy.”
The team will next travel to Arizona to take on No. 24 Arizona State on Friday and Arizona on Saturday.
Contact Yousef Hindy at yhindy ‘at’ stanford.edu.