Photo: Martin Sidorjak
If there were one word to aptly sum up Carol Zhao’s feelings on the eve of her fifth run as a member of Team Canada presented by Sobeys, it would be excitement! As Billie Jean King Cup tries out a brand-new format in which the world’s best nations go head-to-head in a year-end competition, the Canadian is more than ready to take on the top women in tennis.
“It’s really interesting for us, as a country, to be here, and I can’t wait to start playing,” she said. “It’s like the world cup of tennis. There are some excellent countries here, and it’s very special for Canada to have the chance to be part of things. These are the moments we play for. We want to face the best players on the planet and win ties.”
Currently ranked No. 330, Carol landed in Prague with renewed energy after injuries kept her away from the courts in 2020. She had a great start to the season and fought her way into two ITF finals (Salinas and Potchefstroom). An ankle injury suffered at the National Bank Open in Montréal slowed her momentum, but she’s back on track, feeling great and ready to enjoy the competition.
“The whole atmosphere is always very special. I remember the time I played doubles with Gaby against Romania in 2018. The stadium was full and you could feel the excitement. As a player, those are the moments you want to play in.”
After helping Canada overpower Serbia in an empty stadium last April, the Ontarian is thrilled to see fans in the stands.
“We play tennis in front of people. It’s not meant to be played behind closed doors. It’s very exciting to feed off the energy and get inspired by the crowd. Those are things that motivate me as a player.”
As the last nation qualified, Canada is going into the competition as an underdog. The team will also be without its two heaviest hitters, Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez. Still, the squad intends to shake things up and surprise a few people. As for Carol, she’s up for the challenge.
“I bring a lot of positive energy to the team, and I’ll be doing that this week. I love team competitions and played in a lot of them in college. There’s something really special about playing for something bigger than myself, which doesn’t happen too often in tennis. It’s a special time and that motivates me to give my all.”