ATHENS, Ga.- Stacey Tan's 6-0, 7-6 (5) victory at the No. 3 spot lifted No. 5 Stanford past No. 12 Northwestern 4-1 on Thursday afternoon in the round of 16 at the NCAA Tennis Championships.
Stanford (21-1, 9-1 Pac-12) was essentially in control throughout the match, although Northwestern (20-9, 10-1 Big Ten) presented much more of a challenge than the Cardinal's first two opponents.
Ranked No. 5 in the national poll but seeded No. 4 overall in the NCAA draw, the Cardinal now advances to Saturday's 9 a.m. PT quarterfinal matchup against No. 4 USC, which defeated Baylor 4-1 earlier on Thursday.
The nation's only remaining one-loss team, Stanford returns to the quarterfinals for the third straight year and is attempting to capture its second NCAA title in three seasons.
"We came out strong, won the doubles point and were able to win a lot of first sets," said head coach Lele Forood, who is now 308-18 overall in 12 years at the helm. "And then they (Northwestern) do what they do, which is they don't go away. It was a battle and a good test for us to get things started."
With Northwestern appearing to slowly seize momentum in the match, Tan posted her 24th win of the year and has now clinched a team-best eight matches for Stanford.
After breezing to a 6-0 win in the first set, Tan rallied from deficits of 3-0, 4-1, 5-3 and 6-5 in the second frame just to force the tiebreaker.
"It was a tough match," said Tan. "She definitely stepped up her game in the second set and I felt like I was just rushing to finish and looking up at the scoreboard. Then I started taking my time. Slow down in between points and make sure I wasn't rushing during the point also, as I tried to make my way back."
Winning the first five points of the tiebreaker, Tan proceeded to close out the match.
"I felt really confident going into the tiebreak, knowing that I had just come back and she was now feeling the pressure," added Tan. "I knew I had to be confident with my shots and just keep going for it."
Thursday's match was significantly quicker than last year's NCAA round of 16 contest against Northwestern, which took nearly five hours to complete and finally ended at 1:34 a.m. the next day thanks to Carolyn McVeigh's three-setter.
Stanford set the tone by capturing the doubles point to take a 1-0 advantage, a change from last year's marathon match when Northwestern stole a 1-0 lead.
Quickly and convincingly, Stanford's No. 1 team of Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs breezed past Northwestern's top duo of Linda Abu Mushrefova and Veronica Corning 8-1 at the No. 1 spot.
Tan and Ellen Tsay held on for an 8-5 victory on court two, securing the doubles point.
In singles, Tsay made quick work of Veronica Corning at the No. 4 spot, prevailing 6-1, 6-2 to increase Stanford's lead to 2-0.
Gibbs followed with a 7-5, 6-3 victory at the No. 1 spot, pushing the Cardinal's edge to 3-0. It was the 10th straight win for Gibbs, and the 80th overall of her career.
"I was going for my shots a little more," said Nicole Gibbs. "I had a little more confidence going into that second set. I felt more comfortable out there. We're just excited now for whoever comes our way."
Northwestern snagged its only point of the match on court five, with Linda Abu Mushrefova edging Veronica Li 6-4, 6-3.
Having watched Burdette drop a hard-fought second-set tiebreaker one court over minutes before, Tan finished off Wowchuck in the tiebreaker.
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NOTES: Stanford improved to 123-15 all-time in NCAA Tournament play ... Maybe it's the Southern hospitality. Maybe it's the humid, unpredictable weather. One thing is for sure- the city of Athens, Ga., has always been kind in rolling out the welcome mat to Stanford. This year marks the sixth time that the NCAA Championships have taken place in Athens. Aside from its semifinal finish in 2007, the Cardinal has fared very well. Stanford has won it all three times (2004, 2005, 2010) and was the runner-up in 1994 to host Georgia ... Thursday's contest moved swiftly compared to last year's NCAA round of 16 match at Taube Family Tennis Stadium, which lasted nearly five hours. Originally scheduled to start at 6 p.m., the contest was pushed back almost three hours due to an already backed-up tournament schedule and approximately 250 fans watched Carolyn McVeigh clinch at 1:34 a.m. PT ... Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay both improved their overall record to 24-7.
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No. 5 Stanford 4, No. 12 Northwestern 1
1) No. 2 Burdette/Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 85 Corning/Mushrefova (NW) 8-1
2) No. 24 Tan/Tsay (STAN) d. Hamilton/Wowchuk (NW) 8-5
3) Dillon/Li (STAN) vs. Niu/Turvy (NW) abandoned
Order of Finish: 1, 2
1) No. 3 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 20 Kate Turvy (NW) 7-5, 6-3
2) No. 5 Mallory Burdette (STAN) vs. Belinda Niu (NW) abandoned
3) No. 25 Stacey Tan (STAN) d. No. 82 Brittany Wowchuck (NW) 6-0, 7-6 (5)
4) No. 74 Ellen Tsay (STAN) d. Veronica Corning (NW) 6-1, 6-2
5) Linda Abu Mushrefova (NW) d. Veronica Li (STAN) 6-4, 6-3
6) Natalie Dillon (STAN) vs. Nida Hamilton (NW) abandoned
Order of Finish: 4, 1, 5, 3