Sports

Stanford's Zhao sets sights on professional tennis career

 

Carol Zhao leaves Stanford as a champion, helping the Cardinal win the NCAA title despite its No. 15 seed in the tournament.

Stanford women's tennis coach Lele Forood has announced Zhao will forego her senior season to pursue a career in professional tennis.

Zhao played a key role in Stanford's 2016 NCAA championship run, despite missing the fall season and much of the spring due to training with the Canadian National Team and competing in pro tournaments.

Zhao, though, enrolled full-time in both the fall and winter quarters and performed well academically, boasting a 3.71 cumulative GPA as a Science, Technology and Society major.

The Cardinal, which finished 14-1 with Zhao in the lineup and 6-4 without during the year, gained stability once she returned full-time in late March.

Stanford became a different team over the stretch run, ending the season with 10 consecutive wins on the way to its 19th national championship (18 NCAA, 1 AIAW).

"Leaving Stanford is one of the toughest decisions I have ever made," said Zhao, a three-time All-American (singles and doubles in 2014-15, singles in 2013-14) and 2015 NCAA Singles runner-up. "I have accumulated a lifetime's worth of memories over my three years as a student, athlete and captain.

"I am filled with gratitude for all those who have contributed to this life-changing experience," Zhao continued. "I want to thank my coaches, Lele, Frankie and Erin, sports performance coach Jason Quan, athletic trainer Brian White, my teammates and the entire Stanford staff and community for their unconditional support while allowing me the space to grow as both an athlete and a person. I have gained a family for life."

"While we will certainly miss Carol in our lineup next season, we wish her all the best as she pursues her dream of professional tennis," said Forood, who has guided the Cardinal to eight NCAA titles and a 388-37 overall record in 16 seasons at the helm. "Carol is highly-motivated, driven and resilient, and all of those traits will greatly help her at the next level.

"Carol cared deeply about her teammates and contributed so much to our program in a short amount of time," Forood said. "Carol also made the most of her opportunities outside of tennis, earning a reputation as one of our highest academic achievers while immersing herself in all aspects of student life on campus."

Zhao concludes her career on The Farm having compiled a 76-16 overall record, 51-8 dual match ledger and 11-1 mark in three-set matches.

Zhao, who anchored the No. 1 spot in the lineup over each of the last two seasons, was a three-time all-conference pick and consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 in singles throughout her career, including a career-high No. 1 ranking in the 2016 preseason poll.

Zhao was equally strong in the classroom, named a Pac-12 All-Academic selection for the past two seasons.

Zhao's first competition this season came as a last-minute addition prior to Stanford's 4-3 regular-season victory over Florida on Feb. 28.

Less than 24 hours after a runner-up doubles finish at the Morgan Run Women's Open, a $25K USTA Pro Circuit event in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Zhao returned to the lineup and helped contributed a momentum-changing 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 victory over 12th-ranked Brooke Austin at the top spot of the lineup.

Earning a final No. 25 national ranking, Zhao was 11-4 overall in singles and teamed with freshman Melissa Lord as Stanford's No. 2 doubles team that earned a runner-up finish at Pac-12 Championships.

As a sophomore, Zhao finished 35-5 overall and 21-2 in duals while falling one step short of becoming Stanford's 15th NCAA Singles champion and third in four seasons.

Capturing her first career singles crown in October at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships, Zhao was 22-3 against nationally-ranked opponents while providing the clinching point in six matches.

Zhao also teamed with fellow junior Taylor Davidson as Stanford's No. 1 duo, finishing 34-8 overall and becoming the Cardinal's first Pac-12 Doubles Team of the Year since 2006.

During her rookie season, Zhao chalked up a 30-7 overall record and was 19-2 in duals, playing 18 of those contests at the No. 3 spot.

Dominating play with 27 of her 30 victories coming in straight sets, Zhao pieced together a 17-match winning streak and contributed three postseason victories as Stanford advanced to the NCAA semifinals.

Stanford owns a 142-18 all-time record in the postseason since the NCAA tournament went to its present format in 1982.

— Stanford Athletics

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