Stanford women’s tennis is used to being underestimated on the national stage. The Cardinal were seeded 12th in 2013 NCAA Tournament, the year they last won the national title. This year they are seeded 15th.
Part of their post-season ranking this year can be attributed to their slow start to the season, a period when the team was playing without last year’s NCAA singles runner-up, junior Carol Zhao. However, in what is becoming a predictable pattern, spring became a period of Cardinal domination. A turning point was Stanford’s 4-3 victory over No. 1 Berkeley, handing the Golden Bears their only loss of the regular season. The Cardinal then went on to defeat No. 19 USC 4-2 to claim the Pac-12 title.
Stanford (14-5, 9-1 Pac-12) will need to continue its strong form in order to progress deep into the NCAA Tournament. Part of the Cardinal’s recent success can be attributed to the return of Zhao, a three-time All-American who has the potential to dominate any opponent. The team is 8-1 with her in the lineup and 6-4 without. Another important factor has been Stanford’s strength in doubles this season. Partners and fellow juniors Taylor Davidson and Caroline Doyle are ranked No. 5 in the nation, while the recent partnership of Zhao and freshman Melissa Lord is ranked No. 31.
Stanford is hosting first and second round competition at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium, giving the Cardinal home court advantage at the beginning of the tournament. First up on Friday is Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (24-0, 11-0), the only undefeated team in the nation (although with a much weaker schedule than those of the traditional powerhouse programs).
The Cardinal’s greatest challenge should come in the third round, when Stanford is expected to play second-seeded Florida. However, this matchup bodes well for the team, which previously pulled off a 4-3 upset of the Gators in February. Senior Krista Hardebeck has a history of Gator-hunting, clinching the winning point against Florida for the third time in her career in a thrilling three-set victory. This meeting has the potential to be a match of giants, with Stanford and Florida having combined to win four of the last six national titles.
Although collegiate tennis is primarily a team sport, there are also opportunities to showcase individual accomplishment. Taylor Davidson was selected to compete in the NCAA Singles Championships as an at-large selection. Her doubles partner, Caroline Doyle, was selected as an alternate. The Davidson/Doyle doubles team will also compete in the Doubles Tournament, with both taking place from May 25-30.
Action on Friday will kick off at 2:00 p.m. with live scores available on the Pac-12’s website.
After The Farm and other regional sites, the final 16 teams square off at the NCAA Tennis Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, beginning Thursday, May 19. The national championship matches are set for Tuesday, May 24.
Contact Amanda McLean at ammclean ‘at’ stanford.edu.