Canadian Carol Zhao wins first WTA Tour singles match

Two weeks ago, as you can see by the above photo, 19-year-old Carol Zhao was playing in the small town of Granby, Québec, about an hour outside of Montreal, out there with the wooden pallets and the garbage cans.

Monday, she was on Stadium Court in Stanford, California at a WTA Tour Premier-level event, beating a player once ranked No. 12 in the world.

"I was mostly focused on my own game, to be honest. I didn't really know what was happening until she decided to retire," Zhao said. "Obviously going in there were were nerves, like any other match. On top of that, there was excitement."

Yes, it was an injury retirement; Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer called it a day after Zhao won the first set, and broke her in the first game of the second set. But a win is a win, and this one was Zhao's first at the WTA Tour level, in only her second career match at that level.

She will play former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the second round, and she'll probably get the stadium court again.

You see, Zhao is from Toronto. But the court at Stanford University is very much her home court. She just completed her freshman year at the university, and that's why the tournament awarded her a wild card into the qualifying, where she won a pair of tough three-setters to make the main draw. The win will push her WTA ranking from its current No. 421 to somewhere inside the top 300.

This is Zhao's third pro tournament of the summer, after a pair of $25,000 events in Gatineau and Granby. Before that, she hadn't played one since October 2013; Stanford isn't exactly a "tennis" university. They take their tennis seriously, but you have to be smart to get in and once you're in, you have to put in the work to stay in. So she's been busy.

A year ago in Toronto at the Rogers Cup, Zhao won two matches in the qualifying (one of them against Irina-Camelia Begu, ranked No. 75 at the time). She has quietly posted some good wins and good efforts against good players; in the qualifying at the tour stop in Quebec City last September, she lost 6-4 in the third set against American Coco Vandeweghe, who is now in the top 50. At the tournament in Vancouver exactly a year ago (she bypassed it this year when she received the Stanford wild card), she defeated Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia, currently ranked No. 55, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Zhao was of the better juniors to come out of Tennis Canada's national program (that's not a high threshold, since few have even reached the junior Grand Slam level, but still). She got into the top 10 in the ITF junior rankings, and won the junior Australian Open doubles title with Ana Konjuh of Croatia in 2013. But she wisely opted to go the college tennis route, playing pro events during the summer.

Here she is at just 15, in her junior Grand Slam debut at the French Open in 2011 (click the pic to see a photo slideshow)

And here's some video of her at the Eddie Herr tournament in Bradenton, Fla. in late 2010, where she reached the finals in the under-16 category.

College tennis is a good call, even though Zhao is a very good player. She doesn't have any one outstanding weapon, and she's undersized by today's Amazon standards on the women's tour, but she's a complete player at a young age with solid technique who's as fast as lightning, competes well and isn't allergic to the net.

We'll see how she does against Ivanovic, with the home-crowd no doubt giving her a lot of support against one of the darlings of the women's circuit. She'll most likely end up in Montreal by the weekend, playing in the Rogers Cup qualifying.