ATHENS, Ga.- Just how dominant has Carol Zhao been at the No. 3 spot this year?
Of Zhao’s 28 victories, all but three have been decided in straight sets. At times, it seems Zhao is rarely even pushed to the limit, with only four of her sets this season decided by a tiebreaker.
Turns out she can win those, too.
Two days after watching fellow rookie Caroline Doyle deliver a pressure-packed win, Zhao provided the clinching point with a tough-as-nails 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4) victory as No. 11 Stanford defeated No. 4 Virginia 4-2 on Saturday afternoon in the NCAA quarterfinals.
FINAL FOUR BABY!!! Best feeling in the world getting an opportunity to close out the match for my girls. WE COMIN FOR THE NATTY!!! #GOCARD— Carol Zhao (@CarolZhao95) May 17, 2014
Stanford (20-2, 8-2 Pac-12), which has now won nine consecutive NCAA Tournament matches when seeded lower than its opponent, will next face No. 7 North Carolina on Monday at 10 a.m. PT with the winner earning a spot in the national championship.
Saturday’s victory was just another in a growing list of NCAA Tournament “upsets” for Stanford. The victim this time around was Virginia (24-6, 12-2 ACC), seeded No. 3 in the postseason draw but ranked No. 4 in the national poll. The upstart Cavaliers were enjoying their best season in school history, racking up a program-high 24 victories and claiming their first-ever ACC regular-season title and ACC Tournament crown.
However, Stanford possessed a sizeable advantage in experience. The Cardinal has won 17 of the 32 possible NCAA championships. Meanwhile, Virginia was appearing in the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
"It means a lot to our team, we had belief all year and it's nice to finally arrive in the semifinals,” said head coach Lele Forood, who collected her 350th career victory. “Virginia was really, really tough. They did a great job of hanging tough the entire match. Nobody lost their match, it was about people who won their matches. I think that's a real statement for them."
Off we go! Quarter final battle against Virginia today. Go Card!!!! pic.twitter.com/mOBKTfiPTe— Mallory Burdette (@Mal_Burdette) May 17, 2014
Aiming to repeat as NCAA champions for the first time since an undefeated three-year run from 2004-06, Stanford built an early lead and received late victories from Doyle and Zhao after Virginia had fought back to even the match at 2-2.
Capturing the doubles point for the 19th time in 22 matches, Stanford gained a 1-0 lead thanks to strong performances at the top of the lineup. Even on two courts, the Cardinal’s No. 2 duo of Taylor Davidson and Ellen Tsay posted an 8-5 triumph over the nation’s seventh-ranked duo of Julia Elbaba and Rachel Pierson.
Carrying over her momentum from Thursday’s dramatic three-setter, Davidson contributed a 6-4, 6-1 victory to kick off singles play and extend Stanford’s lead to 2-0.
Virginia, which spent all but one month ranked among the top-10, battled back to even the contest at 2-2. Danielle Collins charged ahead with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Krista Hardebeck on court two while Maci Epstein edged Tsay 7-6 (5), 6-3 on court five.
Set-up at the McWhorter Courts have the top four spots together. Walk upstairs and courts 5 and 6 are next door. pic.twitter.com/ZysHhYWUTv— StanfordWTennis (@StanfordWTennis) May 17, 2014
Doyle had won her first set 6-2 at the No. 6 position before Caryssa Peretz countered with a 6-3 victory in the second frame. The deciding set was all Doyle, who convincingly ripped off six games in a row to push Stanford’s lead to 3-2.
The clincher would end up coming from Zhao, but it wasn’t easy. In the first set, Zhao led 4-2 before Nauta won the next three games. Zhao eventually forced a tiebreaker, winning seven of the eight points. In the second set, Zhao rallied from a 6-5 deficit to force a second tiebreaker, jumping out to an early lead and holding on for the win.
"Obviously it was a really tight match,” said Zhao. “I saw that it was probably going to come down to me, because Kristie was still in the middle of the second set. I just focused really hard on each point in the tiebreak and tried to get the win for my team."
After that comeback win against Cal, @StanfordWTennis looks like it's on a mission to defend its title. Virginia just got in the way today.— Do-Hyoung Park (@dohyoungpark) May 17, 2014
Kristie Ahn’s match at the No. 1 spot was abandoned, as she was battling to 4-4 in the second set after dropping the first 7-5.
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NOTES: Stanford improved to 2-0 all-time against Virginia … The Cardinal is 133-16 all-time in NCAA Tournament play … Stanford notched its fifth straight 20-win season and 33rd in program history … Carol Zhao has provided the clinching point in four matches this season … Caroline Doyle is 3-1 in three-set matches this season … Ellen Tsay has dropped back-to-back matches for the first time this year … Kristie Ahn and Carol Zhao posted their first doubles victory in nearly a month, taking down Stephanie Nauta and Li Xi 8-2. Prior to today, Ahn and Zhao had not finished a match in the postseason.
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No. 11 Stanford 4, No. 4 Virginia 2
1) No. 10 Ahn/Zhao (STAN) d. Nauta/Li Xi (UVA) 8-2
2) No. 50 Davidson/Tsay (STAN) d. No. 7 Elbaba/Pierson (UVA) 8-5
3) Collins/Epstein (UVA) d. Doyle/Amelia Herring (STAN) 8-2
Order of Finish: 1, 3, 2
1) No. 3 Kristie Ahn (STAN) vs. No. 4 Julia Elbaba (UVA) abandoned
2) No. 32 Danielle Collins (UVA) d. No. 51 Krista Hardebeck (STAN) 6-4, 6-2
3) No. 21 Carol Zhao (STAN) d. No. 53 Stephanie Nauta (UVA) 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4)
4) No. 50 Taylor Davidson (STAN) d. No. 76 Rachel Pierson (UVA) 6-4, 6-1
5) Maci Epstein (UVA) d. No. 54 Ellen Tsay (STAN) 7-6 (5), 6-3
6) No. 57 Caroline Doyle (STAN) d. Caryssa Peretz (UVA) 6-2, 3-6, 6-0
Order of Finish: 4, 2, 5, 6, 3