By Alexa Corse
No. 20 Stanford women’s tennis (9-4, 4-1 Pac-12) rebounded after a 4-3 loss to No. 11 Pepperdine on Tuesday by shutting out Colorado and No. 65 Utah this past weekend.
The wins over Pac-12 opponents Colorado and Utah will help the Cardinal maintain a winning Pac-12 record necessary to qualify for the NCAA Championships. But the shutouts might not be the most apt indicator regarding Stanford’s potential once in the NCAA Championships itself, since Colorado and Utah are not highly ranked nationally.
While the loss to non-conference foe Pepperdine has less effect on Stanford’s NCAA tournament bid, the defeat underscores how Stanford’s postseason success could depend on how standout junior Carol Zhao balances her schedule of collegiate play with the professional circuit.
Zhao, the 2015 NCAA singles runner-up who was No. 1 in collegiate preseason rankings and is currently No. 323 in the WTA, took a break from collegiate play for the professional circuit over winter quarter but returned to The Farm for Stanford’s 7-0 wins against Colorado and Utah.
Zhao did not compete in Stanford’s 4-3 loss to Pepperdine, a team more akin to a top-ranked NCAA contender compared to Utah and Colorado, last Tuesday. The nail-biting score shows that while Stanford remains competitive even without Zhao, her presence at the No. 1 spot may give Stanford the edge to defeat the nation’s best teams. Zhao competed in Stanford’s highest-profile win so far this season, its 4-3 victory over No. 7 Florida at home on Feb. 28.
Against Pepperdine, Stanford won closely contested matches at Nos. 2, 3, and 6. Pepperdine clinched the deciding doubles point, defeating Stanford’s typically strong doubles play at the Nos. 1 and 2 spots.
On Friday against Colorado, Zhao prevailed on Court 1 against Nuria Ormeno Ruiz, ranked 74th nationally, in an unexpectedly hard-fought battle, 7-5, 7-6 (5). On Court 2, No. 23 Taylor Davidson dispatched Jeannez Daniel of Colorado, 6-1, 6-2. Davidson, a junior, has amassed a 4-5 record at the No. 1 spot in Zhao’s absence, and is especially formidable at No. 2 when Zhao joins the lineup.
Zhao lost the first set 3-6 on Saturday against Margo Pletcher of Utah, but captured the momentum to win 3-6, 6-1, 10-0 on Court 1.
When Zhao plays in Stanford’s lineup, only two spots are left for the three freshmen who have received regular playing time in Zhao’s absence. Freshman Caroline Lampl won at the No. 5 spot against Colorado and Utah, while freshmen Kimberly Yee and Melissa Lord alternated at No. 6.
Lord won 6-0, 6-2 against Colorado and Yee prevailed 6-4, 5-7, 11-9 against her Utah opponent the following day.
Stanford next hosts No. 35 Oregon, a Pac-12 rival, on Saturday, April 2, at noon at Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
Contact Alexa Corse at corsea ‘at’ stanford.edu.