- School: Stanford
- Year Graduated: 2016 (went pro after junior year)
- Current Job: WTA #527
Carol Zhao was born June 20, 1995 in Chongqing, China. Her family emigrated to Canada when she was seven, where Carol developed her tennis. The Canadian has had incredible success in her tennis career. As a junior, she reached as high as number 9 in the junior ranking, notably winning the 2013 doubles Australian Open.
In college, Zhao finished her three years at Stanford with a remarkable 76-16 record, leading her team to a NCAA National Title in 2016. She was also the 2015 NCAA Singles finalist. After turning pro in 2016, Zhao climbed up the WTA ranking, reaching as high as number 131 in the singles ranking before an injury set her back for some time.
If you follow her on social media, you know she is a gifted musician. If you don’t, we advise you to go check it out after you read her insightful interview below (Carol Zhao instagram).
7 Questions With Carol Zhao
#1 What was your recruiting/school selection process like?
I believe I committed pretty early on in the process, I was fortunate to have interest from a number of schools but I knew that Stanford was where my heart was at so when I got the opportunity to commit, I did. My long-term goal was always to turn professional, so I wanted to be pushed on the tennis front, but I also really valued the academic experience and felt that Stanford was the perfect fit to get to pursue both at a high level.
#2 What was your favorite moment/story/aspect of college?
The trophies or whatnot are obviously highlights, especially winning the team championship in 2016 – it was my last match in a Stanford uniform and felt like it immortalized our three-year experience together as a team. Still to this day, it’s probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve experienced on a tennis court. But I think what’s most special about the college experience are the bonds you form with people that will hopefully stay with you for life. Little traditions and moments you share with friends, inside jokes, etc. We had this thing where we would drink champagne and lay down on the Quad at midnight after finals every quarter, having the best conversations.
#3 How did college tennis prepare you for the rest of your career/life?
I’m currently on tour. Enjoyed great progress the first year or so and had a pretty large setback with an injury that I’ve just gotten over. Unfortunately with the tour on hold due to the virus it’s not the greatest timing for me but it’s certainly what’s right for now. The knowledge that I could return to school and pursue another career is comforting at times, but can also be a double-edged sword when options can almost make decisions tougher in times of constant uncertainty as a professional player. For the foreseeable future though I’m fully committed to tennis and doing everything I can to be the best athlete I can be.
#4 A lot of juniors and parents worry that tennis will suffer because of the academic demands of college. What advice would you give an 18-year old in terms of balancing academics and tennis?
I think for me I always went into it with an open mind, a growth mindset. I wanted to absorb everything around me, learn as much as I can from the environment I was in and the people I was around, in both tennis and academics. I think if you maintain a curious attitude and an almost insatiable urge to become better, you will find the time to juggle all your responsibilities. I was afforded some incredible opportunities for growth and tried to maximize my experience by grabbing them with both hands.
But if someone is going into it knowing they would like to commit more to tennis than academics, for example, then they should make those adjustment such as re course load, maybe major selection and so on. Knowing what you will and won’t be able to handle is important. There’s no right or wrong! People might want different things from the experience and that’s OK.
#5 Another thing we see parents worrying about is how the social component of college will affect their kids tennis. What would you tell an 18-year old going to college in regards to having fun without compromising their tennis/academics?
I do think the social component is a huge part of the college experience and definitely something you should make time for to enrich your experience. Similar to the academic bit, it’s about learning to balance these three areas of your life and knowing there will be times when you can delegate a bit more time to each, depending on what time of the year it is (in season vs. not) and surrounding yourself with the right people that are aligned with your goals will help you navigate that. Time management is probably one of the most essential skills you’ll master in college.
#6 Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting college again today?
Nothing really jumps out, to be honest. It’s a really short time frame for a large amount of growth, and that growth wouldn’t happen without going through some of the things you go through early on – it really helps shape you into the person you become.
#7 In your case, why did you think that college tennis was a good option as opposed to going directly to the pro tour?
I’ve always said that choosing to go to college wasn’t solely a tennis decision, it was a life decision. Tennis-wise, I learned how to be a leader, to play under that kind of pressure, to be a part of something greater than myself, and to be coached by some of the best in the game (I still call Lele all the time for tennis and life advice). While I was there the level of competition was high as well, with a handful of alumni reaching top 100 or top 200 within a year or two out on tour. On the academic side, I was able to explore a lot of interests and work with some of the brightest minds out there, both on campus and through an extended network. Personally, I have bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime. It’s not necessarily the right option for everyone, but it’s certainly worth considering for most.