By Alexa Corse
No. 12 Stanford women’s tennis faces a particularly challenging match in the round of 16 of the NCAA Championships, as the Cardinal will play longtime rival and No. 1-ranked Florida on Thursday in Tulsa, Oklahoma at 10 a.m.
The matchup follows Stanford’s 4-3 win over No. 18 Texas A&M at Taube Family Tennis Stadium on Thursday, which junior Taylor Davidson clinched with a dramatic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win at the No. 2 spot. Stanford’s NCAA journey is now likely to become even more thrilling given the Cardinal’s history of intense competition with Florida.
Although Florida appears the favorite based on its status as the second seed, Stanford (seeded fifteenth) tends to rise to the challenge when the Gators are on the other side of the net. Stanford edged Florida 4-3 in their most recent matchup on February 28 at The Farm, handing the Gators one of their only two losses on the season. The Cardinal have maintained the upper hand historically as well. Stanford has won six out of the rivals’ last nine matches, dating back to its 4-3 victory to clinch the 2010 NCAA Championship.
The Cardinal squad has the talent to deal the Gators another defeat on Thursday, although the competitiveness of their previous matchup suggests that Stanford will have to bring its best game.
Doubles is one place where Stanford could improve over its prior performance against the Gators. Stanford has been largely dominant in doubles but had an off day against Florida in February and suffered its first loss of the doubles point this season.
Stanford will need the junior duo of Davidson and Caroline Doyle to repeat its February win over the Gators’ Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan, which Davidson and Doyle claimed 6-2 on Court 1. The matchup will feature some of the nation’s best in collegiate doubles, as Davidson and Doyle are the fifth-ranked doubles team nationally while Austin and Keegan are the No. 3 team.
In February, the Gators imposed their will at the No. 2 and 3 doubles spots, however, winning both matches 6-2. Freshman Melissa Lord has since replaced freshman Kimberly Yee as junior Carol Zhao’s regular doubles partner at the No. 2 spot, but both courts will likely remain battlegrounds.
Despite losing the doubles point, Stanford managed to clinch the match with four singles victories. Zhao, the Cardinal’s No. 1 singles player, will look to repeat victory in her expected rematch against the Gators’ Brooke Austin, who is the fourth-ranked singles player nationally.
Zhao’s return to the lineup, just in time for the last Florida match, provided Stanford with an added dose of momentum. The Cardinal will want to channel that team spirit again on Thursday.
“We were all super fired up, because we found out the night before [that Zhao would rejoin the lineup],” Davidson said. “It’s definitely going to be important for us to find some momentum to ride into the match, like what happened in February.”
Stanford’s winning edge may again be senior Krista Hardebeck, who, improbably, has provided the clinching singles point over Florida three times in her collegiate career. Hardebeck, who is ranked 100th nationally, earned the moniker “Gator Killer” after she clinched the February match in a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win over Josie Kuhlman.
Freshman Caroline Lampl also could be a game-changer. In the third set against Florida’s Brianna Morgan in February, Lampl suffered debilitating cramps from the heat that contributed to her back-and-forth loss at the No. 5 spot. In the three months since, Lampl has become an even greater force to be reckoned with. She has notched the winningest record among the Stanford freshmen (26-5, 17-2 dual), notably winning a three-set match that clinched Stanford’s 4-3 upset over then-No. 1 and previously undefeated Cal on April 16 at The Farm.
“Florida is literally the biggest rival,” Lampl said, reflecting on her encounter with the Gators after the teams’ first meeting this year. “We all have a little beef with them.”
Contact Alexa Corse at corsea ‘at’ stanford.edu.