Women’s tennis faces No. 1 Cal in regular season finale

April 15, 2016, 12:49 a.m.

The No. 17 Stanford women’s tennis team’s (12-5, 7-1 Pac-12) regular season culminates this weekend with its biggest match yet against No. 1 California (19-0, 7-0). While the matchup between the rivals is always contentious, this year’s rendition of the Big Slam features a number of storylines that promise an exciting contest.

Carol Zhao. Stanford Women's Tennis v. Florida. Photo by Allison Harman
Carol Zhao (above) has helped Stanford take five of its last six matches after returning from playing on the professional circuit. The Cardinal’s only loss during that span was against Cal, which the Cardinal will face in a high-stakes rematch this weekend. (ALLISON HARMAN/The Stanford Daily)

Although the teams’ records look disparate on paper, the Cardinal have been on fire since the permanent return of their stalwart No. 1, junior Carol Zhao. The team has won five of their last six matches, dropping only three individual matches in those victories. Stanford’s only loss in that period came at the hands of Cal two weeks ago in Berkeley.

Stanford started the match strongly, clinching the doubles point behind victories on the top two courts. However, the Bears came back dominant in singles play, winning four straight to clinch the match. Three-set victories by Krista Hardebeck and Caroline Lampl on Courts 4 and 5 brought the final score to 4-3 in favor of Cal.

The hard-fought loss did not count in the conference standings, while Saturday’s meeting on The Farm will, carrying serious implications for both teams. A victory would complete a perfect regular season for Cal, something the program has never achieved in its 43-year history. It would also secure the Pac-12 title for the Golden Bears for just the second time since 1988 and almost certainly clinch them the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, a Stanford upset would flip the tables and place the Cardinal in serious contention for the conference title. With a UCLA victory over USC, Stanford would clinch the title outright; if the Trojans are able to get by the Bruins, Stanford would meet USC in a neutral-site match to decide the conference winner.

Stanford also currently sits just a spot outside the nation’s top-16, a crucial distinction as the top 16 teams in the country host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. While a loss would leave Stanford’s hosting fate in the hands of the selection committee, a win would virtually lock up home-court advantage for the Cardinal until the Round of 16.

Such a victory won’t be easy to come by, however, as the Golden Bears are loaded with talent up and down their roster. Maegan Manasse and Klara Fabikova are featured at the top two spots for the Bears, and are both ranked in the top-15 in the country. Senior Lynn Chi and junior Denise Starr are both currently ranked in the top-75, and bring veteran experience to the starting lineup.

Strong doubles play will be crucial for the Cardinal in order to alleviate some of the pressure that the team will face against the Bears’ stacked singles lineup. Stanford’s Taylor Davidson and Caroline Doyle, the No. 4 team in the country, will face No. 3 Manasse and Starr of Cal on Court 1 in a rare matchup between top-5 teams.

In singles, Stanford will look to Hardebeck to continue her stellar play, as the senior has rattled off 14 straight victories. However, the match may very well be decided by the match between No. 56 Zhao and No. 10 Manasse on Court 1. The juniors have a fierce rivalry dating back to last year, when Zhao got the better of Manasse twice in three-set battles, including in a 4-3 upset in the third round of the NCAA tournament. This year, however, the Cal No. 1 dispatched of her Stanford counterpart in a tight 7-5, 6-4 victory.

Stanford will hope to be aided by a rowdy atmosphere at Taube Family Center, where the team is 9-1 on the year. Doubles kicks off this year’s Big Slam on Saturday at noon.


Contact Neel Ramachandran at [email protected].

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