Carol Zhao prepared for her championship match in the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships on Tuesday at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Stadium by warming up with teammate Taylor Davidson.
That probably doesn't seem too unusual, since the two Stanford sophomores practice against each other just about every day.
But when Zhao headed to Court 1 to play for the singles title, Davidson followed as her opponent.
"We play against each other every day," Zhao said. "With only six players on the team, we don't have a lot of variety."
Putting their friendship aside for the moment, the two battled gusty wind conditions before Zhao emerged with a 7-6 (4), 6-1 triumph for her first career title.
"Mixed emotions for sure, because I was playing my teammate," said Zhao. "Obviously, we want each other to do well, and ourselves to do well. I don't think we played our best match today, because it was really windy. But at the end of the day, I think we finished well."
Davidson led 4-1 in the first set before Zhao rallied to win the frame in a tiebreaker.
"It was really gusty, a lot more windy that it was during the entire tournament," continued Zhao. "So that was definitely something to get used to, because for the majority of the tournament it was not windy at all. It's just the process of trying to get used to it, and thankfully, at the end of the first set I got used to it."
While Zhao said she didn't come into the tournament with too many expectations, she left with plenty of confidence and as fifth straight Stanford champion. She follows Kristie Ahn (2013, 2010), Krista Hardebeck (2012) and Nicole Gibbs (2011).
The most recent all-Stanford championship match occurred in 2011, when Gibbs defeated Mallory Burdette, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3).
Zhao's victory clinched a spot in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, scheduled for Nov. 6-9 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Davidson could still earn an at-large berth in singles, as the draw will be announced at a later date.
Davidson and Zhao, who combined for a 56-15 overall record last year as rookies, advanced to the championship match after prevailing in three-set victories during Monday's semifinal round.
Stanford also had sophomore Caroline Doyle reach the singles semifinals, while the doubles teams of Doyle-Ellen Tsay and Davidson-Zhao also fell in semifinal matches. It was just the second tourney playing doubles for Davidson and Zhao, who registered a runner-up doubles finish at the Riviera ITA All-American Championships two weeks ago.
Stanford head coach Lele Forood, now in her 15th season, smiled at the mention of having three sophomores advance to the singles semifinals.
"We're now in a new chapter, after losing our older girls last year," Forood said. "We got young in a hurry."
Stanford has three sophomores, two juniors and just one senior (Tsay) on its tiny six-player roster this season. While the talent is there, depth is not.
Said Forood: "We're going to do our best to stay healthy and not get sick."
Forood begins this season with a remarkable 350-26 record, averaging 25 wins a season. Stanford is coming off a 20-3 mark in 2013 and semifinal appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Since taking over in 2001, Forood has taken the Cardinal to the NCAA title match nine times -- winning seven of those appearances.