ATLANTA -- Stanford’s highly touted freshman trio of Taylor Davidson, Caroline Doyle and Carol Zhao cruised through the regular season, chalking up a combined 78-17 record in singles play.
But how would they perform come NCAA tournament time, when the stakes are high and pressure intensifies?
On Thursday, that question was answered.Doyle’s thrilling 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (0) victory propelled Stanford to a 4-3 decision against California, representing the latest chapter in a recent series of memorable postseason comebacks for the NCAA defending champions.
Doyle, who entered the match as the Cardinal’s team leader with 30 wins, was in position to clinch the match only thanks to victories by fellow rookies Davidson, who shook off cramps and fatigue, to grind out a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 triumph at the No. 4 spot, and Zhao, who required less theatrics in a 6-2, 6-3 rout at the No. 3 position.
In a match that felt more like the national title was on the line instead of a quarterfinal berth, Stanford (19-2, 8-2 Pac-12) stormed back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2. California (20-5, 10-0 Pac-12) seized early control by capturing the doubles point and grabbing another quick result when Zsofi Susanyi beat Krista Hardebeck.
The Pac-12 rivals faced an obstacle even before the match began, with overnight rain shifting the contest to Georgia Tech’s indoor courts, approximately 1.5 hours away from Athens, Georgia. Stanford had played only one of its matches indoors this year (Colorado) while California had experience competing at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
California grabbed an early 1-0 lead, becoming only the third team to win the doubles point against Stanford this year.
After Susanyi’s victory gave the Golden Bears a 2-1 edge, Zhao responded with a 6-2, 6-3 rout of Schutting at the No. 3 spot. It was a nice bounce-back for Zhao, whose 17-match winning streak was ended by Schutting last month in Cal’s 6-1 win on The Farm.
Kristie Ahn knotted the match at 2-2 following a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Denise Starr at the No. 1 spot. Stanford’s vocal leader and anchor at the top of the lineup, Ahn improved to 13-2 in her career against Cal opponents and 6-0 this season, with five of those victories coming against different Golden Bear players.
California moved in front 3-2 after Klara Fabikova defeated Ellen Tsay 6-4, 6-3 at the No. 5 spot.
That’s when Davidson and Doyle started their comebacks. Davidson figured to be in a better spot after taking the first set while Doyle had dropped a first-set tiebreaker.
But momentum shifted once again, with Doyle evening her match with a 6-3 victory in the second set. Meanwhile, Davidson had just lost her second set 6-4, and was forced to take an injury timeout after battling cramps and fatigue.
Tied 2-2 in the third set, Davidson somehow appeared to be getting stronger despite her limited mobility. Pounding groundstrokes left and right, Davidson ran away from Chi, ripping off three consecutive games to break a 3-3 tie.
Over on court No. 6, Doyle was locked in a battle with Megan Manasse. Entering Thursday’s match, Doyle had played in only two three-setters all season, both coming against Manasse with each player winning on the other’s home court.
Doyle trailed 5-3 and managed to shake off match point, knotting her match at 5-5 and then again at 6-6 after Manasse had briefly regained the lead.
The third-set tiebreaker was all Doyle, who proceeded to rattle off seven consecutive points before getting mobbed by her teammates.