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Interview With Carol Zhao

In January of 2013, I had a chance to interview Carol Zhao - one of Canada's top tennis players - as she competed at the Australian Open Junior Tournament, where she and Ana Konjuh from Croatia captured the doubles title.

Though well recognized for her exceptionally solid all-court game, Carol is even better known in tennis circles for her likeable personality and wide range of interests, including the Dallas Cowboys, The Script, and strawberry-flavoured beverages.

Her emotional poise and desire to learn will undoubtedly fuel many meaningful experiences in the months and years ahead on the pro tour and around the campus of Stanford University, where she will begin undergraduate studies in September of 2013.

Hi Carol - thanks again for making yourself available to answer some questions about your approach to your tennis career and life in general.

No problem Ben. I'd love to answer any questions that you may have!

My first question is a bit long-winded. Andre Agassi wrote in his autobiography that after winning his first major, he was awakened to something that few people in life are permitted to know: that winning doesn't feel as good as losing feels bad. Has this been your experience thus far as a world class tennis player?

Well, I think all competitive tennis players - myself included - would agree with this statement, no matter what level they are playing at.

When you are training to get better every day and training to win, essentially, you try to do everything in your power to produce good results. It's a full time job; from the moment you wake up to when you fall asleep, much of your day is occupied by tennis and its related activities. When you put so much effort into something you're passionate about, you're keen to do your best and win, so naturally, when you lose, it's very disappointing. But part of being a better player includes learning how to bounce back from losses. It's definitely hard to describe, as it's a feeling more than anything else, and though I haven't experienced it on as large a scale as Agassi has, from my past experiences, I can definitely agree with his statement.

This makes me wonder: should you ever have a son or daughter, would you wish your current existence for him or her? Whether yes or no, what would be your primary reason(s)?

I would undoubtedly wish my current existence on my future son or daughter, but not necessarily in the sense of developing great tennis skills or even producing results. I feel like the greatest benefit that I've received from tennis is that it's enriched my life as a whole. Not only have I been able to travel to amazing places and be presented with unbelievable opportunities, I've developed passion for something that has become a central part of my life.

It's taught me a lot of life skills as well, such as discipline, work ethic, and responsibility for myself, dealing with things that maybe some kids my age might not have to deal with. More than anything, I'm grateful for all the great things that tennis has brought into my life. It's not an easy road, that's for sure, but the journey is exactly what it's all about.

I love that, Carol, especially how your tennis career has helped you develop a strong sense of responsibility for yourself. So many younger people seem to lack an understanding of their value, and I equate your sense of responsibility for yourself to knowing your value, the value of your life.

Richard Williams once told John McEnroe that it's just crazy to think that Venus and Serena could have chosen their tennis lives for themselves, that ultimately, to become who they are as tennis players, he had to choose for them, he had to provide the structure and guidance.

Did someone do this for you and your tennis career? How did you get started with tennis, and did you love it right away? Or did you find that you loved it more when you started becoming good at it? Have there been times when you've wanted to put your racquets away?

I started playing when I was around 5 years old when the physical education teacher at my kindergarten in Beijing and my first coach introduced me to the game. Of course, at first, it was nothing serious; I was playing a couple times a week with foam balls and small racquets, playing other sports in the process as well. When I was around 10, I started realizing that tennis may be something that I would like to pursue individually. A few years later, I started taking it more seriously and started making sacrifices for what became my ambition.

I think all players that possess a certain passion for the game will have a love-hate relationship with it. There are always times when you doubt yourself or when you stop enjoying the game, but this is just part of the experience, and eventually, the more difficult times help motivate you to keep moving forward. Ultimately, I've done everything that I have in my career for my love of the game, and I've enjoyed it because I love it. I don't think that this type of passion is something that can be forced.

I'm curious to know what a typical day in Montreal looks like for you.

I wake up at around 7 am, eat breakfast, and make my way to the National Training Centre at Jarry Park. The first class session starts at 8:30 and goes until 10, and is followed by tennis training until noon. After lunch, at 1, we continue studying until 3, when we pick up our racquets again until 4 or 5, depending on how much training we have that day. We finish the day with an hour or two of fitness training, which could include strength, endurance, agility, and speed work. After dinner, it's usually right back to the books until bedtime. So there usually isn't much space for free time. It's a grueling day, always busy, but it's a satisfying feeling to know that you are working towards something.

I have just one last question to wrap things up - if you knew that you only had 30 days left on earth, how would you spend your time?

I would undoubtedly spend time doing things I love the most, with the people I love the most. I'm not sure I would play tennis, as I feel I have played plenty and it would probably be best to split time more proportionally with other activities, as there is much more to life than just tennis. At that point, I don't think what you're doing is as important as how you do it; if you enjoyed doing it, time was not wasted. I would kind of take the "what would you do if you knew you could not fail" approach and live each day to the fullest and with no regrets.

Thanks so much Carol. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and our readership. I've long believed that the harder we work at something, the more we value it, and my hope is that there are some youngsters who are inspired in learning about your daily efforts with your tennis career. Congratulations on Stanford, and all the best with your studies and tennis career.

Thanks a lot, Ben! It was my pleasure. I really appreciate your support of my tennis career over these past few months. Please give my regards to your wife and the rest of your family. Thanks again and take care!


For the latest from Carol's journey, you can follow her on Twitter here:

Carol Zhao on Twitter


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