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Women’s tennis seeks bounceback at Pac-12s

After a tough 6-1 loss to No. 4 California (18-4, 10-0 Pac-12) on Senior Day last weekend, the No. 9 Stanford women’s tennis team (16-2, 8-2 Pac-12) will have one more chance to reclaim its place atop the conference at the Pac-12 Championships starting today.

The tournament takes place as part of the 114th Annual Ojai Valley Tournament, which also includes professional non-collegiate athletes and the men’s Pac-12 Championships.

Freshman Carol Zhao (above)

Freshman Carol Zhao (above) will team with senior Kristie Ahn in the doubles portion of the Pac-12 Championships, which start today. Zhao has a wealth of doubles experience, including winning the title at the 2013 Australian Open Junior event. (LARRY GE/The Stanford Daily)

Unlike the rest of the season, the championships are set up as matches between individuals rather than matchups between two schools’ teams. There are doubles and singles tournaments, as well as an invitational tournament for players who have not been selected by their schools to play in the championship portion of the overall tournament.

32 singles players and 16 doubles pairs have been selected to the championships, with representatives from each of the 11 Pac-12 schools fielding a women’s tennis program — Oregon State does not currently have a varsity team.

Stanford will send four of its singles players to compete in the main draw in Ojai: No. 54 sophomore Krista Hardebeck, No. 49 junior Ellen Tsay, No. 40 freshman Taylor Davidson, and No. 23 freshman Carol Zhao.

All four players narrowly lost their singles matches to Cal last Saturday, but if they play as they have for the majority of the season, Stanford could very well repeat its tournament success from last year, when Hardebeck made it all the way to the championship match.

Zhao, in her first Pac-12 tournament, will have a tall order if she wants to make a run into the latter stages of the tournament. UCLA’s Jennifer Brady, USC’s Zoe Scandalis, and Cal’s Anett Schutting, who was just named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, all figure to pose tough challenges to their competition.

That said, until last week, Zhao had won 16 in a row — and she could very well repeat Hardebeck’s success as a freshman.

On the doubles side, the No. 9-ranked duo of senior Kristie Ahn and Zhao, and the No. 38-ranked Davidson/Tsay pair, will represent the Cardinal. Ahn, who will be rested during the main singles draw, should be fresh and fired up for the doubles matches, in which the pair is ranked second in the draw. Zhao and Ahn lost for the first time in conference play against the Bears, and should be ready to come out with a vengeance in Ojai.

For their part, Davidson and Tsay have been strong all year, reaching match point against Cal last weekend before the match was abandoned. They are seeded fourth in the doubles draw, and will also be a force to be reckoned with in the coming days.

The invitational portion of the tournament will give No. 52 freshman Caroline Doyle more quality match play before the postseason, and could even result in a rematch against Cal’s Maegan Manasse, who clinched last weekend’s win with a victory over Doyle. The invitational side will also provide senior Amelia Herring and sophomore Lindsey Kostas with valuable court time after a season in which neither of them made it into the rotation to a significant extent.

After the Cal match, head coach Lele Forood, in her 14th year at Stanford, said that the women will need to clean up their play going into the Pac-12s in order to prepare for the NCAA Tournament beyond.

“Everybody needs to continue to work on either closing out matches or doing the things we didn’t get quite done [against Cal],” Forood said. “We’ve got to be a little sharper in the doubles.”

Given that Stanford has been the image of perfection almost all season, the team knows what it needs to do to win, and certainly has the drive to get there behind the leadership of Tsay, Hardebeck and Ahn.

Of course, an individual win at the Pac-12s would only be the beginning for the Cardinal in the postseason. The real prize is the NCAA Tournament, which will begin with the round of 64 at Stanford on Friday, May 9.

“Obviously, as a team, the goal is always to win NCAAs,” said Ahn, who will be playing her last NCAA Tournament as a member of the Cardinal. She will likely go on to play professional tennis.

“To end on a good note would be perfect,” she added.

The Cardinal begin match play today in Ojai, Calif.

Contact Fiona Noonan at fnoonan ‘at’ stanford.edu.