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Hardebeck, Ahn lead women’s tennis in NCAA singles openers

After a disappointing end to the team portion of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships, No. 11 Stanford (20-3, 8-2 Pac-12) is coming back strong on the individual side after winning five of its six singles matches on Wednesday.

As the only team to qualify all six members of its lineup for the NCAA Individual Championships, expectations were high for the Cardinal going in and, as usual, they did not disappoint.

No. 54-ranked junior Ellen Tsay was the only Stanford player to fall on Wednesday, losing in two sets to Notre Dame’s No. 39 Quinn Gleason.

Aside from that, it was upsets galore for a Stanford squad that has continued to impress during this postseason.

Freshman Caroline Doyle (above)

Freshman Caroline Doyle (above) was one of five Stanford players to advance to the NCAA Singles Tournament’s round of 32 on Wednesday, defeating Stefanie Tan of TCU 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-1 for her fourth three-set victory of the season. (TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

As per usual, freshmen No. 50 Taylor Davidson, No. 57 Caroline Doyle and No. 21 Carol Zhao came through for the team, each against players ranked in the mid-40s nationally. At this point, such strength is no surprise from the trio.

The always-solid No. 3 senior Kristie Ahn also bounced back from a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina’s No. 1 Jamie Loeb on Monday. She cruised past a familiar foe, Virginia’s No. 53 Stephanie Nauta, who freshman Carol Zhao beat in the clinching match during the team competition’s quarterfinals.

The storyline of the day, though, was No. 51-ranked sophomore Krista Hardebeck. After losing her last three matches, Hardebeck showed some of her fire in stunning UVA’s No. 4-ranked Julia Elbaba in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2. The win will be key for Hardebeck’s confidence going into subsequent rounds, and may have been just what she needed to start racking up wins again after suffering from rough outing after rough outing during the team tournament.

The tournament continues Thursday with the round of 32. Although Tsay’s season is over, the other five are still going strong, and key upsets for three of the five will be critical boosters going into the next round. As we’ve seen throughout the year, though, rankings mean next to nothing when it comes to this Stanford squad.

The ones to watch will be the freshman trio, who keep getting hotter and hotter as the season rolls on. After routing their opponents today, Zhao and Davidson should be keyed up going into Thursday and beyond, and Wednesday’s three-set victory for Doyle will be good preparation for tough matches to come. The three freshmen have been incredible all year — composed, fierce and, most of all, clutch performers in times of need — and if today was any indication, that trend should continue.

Ahn, of course, will be looking for her first NCAA singles title to close out her college career before turning pro this summer. For Hardebeck, the individual tournament is a chance at redemption after a less-than-satisfactory individual performance at Pac-12s.

On the doubles side, the Cardinal have just one team, the No. 10-ranked duo of Ahn and Zhao, who have been outstanding all season. The pair is coming off of a tough loss to UNC’s No. 3-ranked Hayley Carter and Loeb, but the outlook is bright for the pair after making it to the finals of the immensely competitive Pac-12 Doubles Tournament.

They face No. 21-ranked Julia Fellerhoff and Rebecca Shine of Louisville to start the tournament. A victory would mean meeting either a Georgia duo or Miami pair in the round of 16, and the soonest they might see a Pac-12 foe would be the quarterfinals, against USC’s Zoë Scandalis and Giuliana Olmos.

The freshman-senior pair has clicked all season, and should continue to work well together in the coming days in Athens, Georgia.

Overall, the Cardinal are in a good position as they enter the next phase of the NCAAs. Expectations are high, even after the departure of two-time NCAA champion Nicole Gibbs, and behind Ahn’s leadership and the freshmen’s consistent performance, Stanford is well positioned to make yet another long tournament run.

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