Born in Beijing, China, Carol Zhao’s journey on the tennis courts began with the encouragement of her grade school teacher at the age of five.  At the age of seven, she and her family travelled over 10,000kms to their current home in Richmond Hill, Ont.
"Ever since we moved to Canada, I've played many hours of tennis each day around Richmond Hill," she said. "It's a great community and I've been fortunate to be around a lot of good people."
Today, thanks to her hard work and dedication, the 17-year-old has emerged as one of the top junior tennis players in the world.  She’s particularly pleased with her results so far in 2012.
“I’m happy because I’ve been consistent with my performances this year,” said Zhao, who has four runner-up finishes to her credit thus far. “It’s really pushed up my junior ranking and I feel I’m on track to do something great.”
She credits her participation in Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre (NTC) Program for her recent success on the tennis courts.
“The program provides everything we need to become the best tennis player we can be,” said Zhao, who relocated to Montreal in September of 2010 to be part of the NTC. “We are given the opportunity to compete in big tournaments around the world and against the best junior players.”
According to her current coach, Ralph Platz, the young tennis star exhibits certain qualities that leads him to believe a very bright future is ahead for her on the tennis courts.
“She’s got fantastic work ethic,” said Platz. “She’s very disciplined in the physical aspect and if she can be disciplined in the mental aspect then I think she can raise her game to that next level very quickly,”
With so many stellar performances so far in 2012, Platz believes Zhao’s most significant accomplishment came at the junior U.S. Open in September.
“At the U.S. Open, she got to the round of 16 and lost a very tight match to a girl ranked in the WTA top 150,” he pointed out. “In hindsight, really, she should have won the match but I think that was a great result win or lose……She had a great match there; and it’s been building ever since.”
NTC teammate, Erin Routliffe, points to other qualities that have been important success factors for Zhao.
 “In tennis, she's obviously a great player and I love playing doubles with her because she's so relaxed,” said Routliffe, herself a highly ranked junior. “We’re always making jokes on the court and it's great because it keeps us from getting tense and nervous in our matches.”
“She's definitely one of the funniest people I know,” added the Caledon, Ont. native, who along with Zhao captured the Pan Am double titles in early October.  “She makes travelling a lot more fun and very enjoyable all the time.”
Coach Platz echoes Routliffe’s comments about the rising Richmond Hill tennis star.
“When she and I are travelling we have a variety of things that we can talk about.  It’s impressive that she has such a diverse interest outside of tennis,” Platz said.  “She’s very interested in her school work. She’s very interested in music.”
On the topic of music, Zhao is quick to express her affection.
“I love music. I like to think that I'm pretty musical; I played piano for 10 years and played the saxophone for a few years,” she revealed.
The Richmond Hill teen also reveals that currently, her favourite band is The Script, stating that “stylistically and lyrically, they are awesome.”
 “I also like Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, and I'm really liking Phillip Phillips' new album,” she added. “I guess you could say I'm relatively into more of the quiet stuff.”
On the topic of education, the 17-year-old says it’s one of the most important things for her.  As she explains, after careful consideration, Stanford University in California was her top choice.
 “Stanford is an exceptional school just based on the fact that it has the ability to combine world-class elite level athletics in nearly every department as one of the greatest institutions in the world,” said Zhao.  “I'm just really proud and honored to be amongst such great company.”
Honored with the prospect of an exciting journey ahead, the 17-year-old is optimistic about reaching her goals as she looks towards the future.
“In five years time I just hope that I'll be able to mature both athletically and academically,” said Zhao.  “It's definitely going into another phase of my life.”
 “I just want to look back knowing that I did everything I could have done,” she added.  “I believe by doing that, I can accomplish any goals that I set for myself.”

By: David Li

Photo by: David Li

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