Dolehide serves up master stroke
Hinsdale native captures tennis world's attention after remarkable tourney run
Last updated 12/13/2023 at 9:42pm | View PDF
Caroline Dolehide's holiday wish was granted early this year.
Back in September, the 25-year-old pro tennis player from Hinsdale sat at 111th in the world singles standings as she began play at the WTA 1000-level tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.
This had been a good year up to that point for Dolehide, having elevated her ranking from 206 in February to 99 by the end of May following a series of strong performances that culminated with a championship at the Naples ITF W60 event in Florida. She had cracked the top 100 for the first time in her career, and reached her highest ranking since she hit 102 way back in July 2018.
"One of my goals this year was to really focus on my singles," said Dolehide, long a top-50 doubles player who has appeared in three Grand Slam semifinals, including at Wimbledon this summer.
She was no longer at that high-water mark by the time she arrived in Guadalajara. But her focus hadn't slipped a bit – although she couldn't pass up the opportunity to enter the doubles bracket with good friend Asia Muhammad.
Dolehide wore out her first two singles opponents in a pair of gritty three-setters, earning a third-round match with world No. 20 Ekaterina Alexandrova. Dolehide, needing a quick match, rolled to a 6-1, 6-2 victory.
"My game just matches up really well against hers, and I was very solid overall," she said of the Russian opponent. "I served very well."
Onto the quarterfinals, and singles and doubles.
"It gives me a lot of joy to play both. But I've not put myself in a position where I can play both a lot of the time," Dolehide said.
The weather was muggy, and she was logging a lot of court time doing double duty.
"I made sure to drink a ton of water. It can be tough to breathe the first few days," she said.
The most consequential moment of Dolehide's tennis journey came Sept. 22 in a quarterfinal match against Italian veteran Martina Trevisan. The drama matched the stakes, with Dolehide coming back from a set down to save four match points in claiming a nervy second-set tiebreak and then taking full command in the third.
"It was a night match. It felt like football game, but you're the only one out there," Dolehide recounted. "To me, that was the most intense match. It was just so close the entire match and especially in the second set when she had three straight match points on my serve."
In the deciding point after nearly three hours, Dolehide served, then struck Trevisan's return for a winner. Chants of "Caro!" rained down from the spectators who had been won over by the American's tenacity and improbable advance through the bracket.
"Everyone went crazy," she remarked of the crowd's reaction to the 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 triumph. "Just to feel that, it was very emotional."
She credits her longtime coach Jorge Todero for being her chief supporter.
"He believed in me the second he saw me," Dolehide said. "Our goals are bigger than just top-100. To see all the work we had put in pay off and turn into success made me really happy."
The achievement had catapulted her into the top 50, and she still had a doubles match to play. And win.
"It was a long day, but two wins in a day felt good," Dolehide said.
Compatriot Jessica Pegula, world No. 3, posted Dolehide's exploits on her Instagram page, including the caption, "LFG (Let's Freakin' Go)."
Of course, she now had a semifinal to play in less than 24 hours, against fellow American and 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. Any fatigue would have to wait, as Dolehide dispatched her 7-5, 6-3.
"I've known her for over 10 years - another tough opponent and someone who's had some great results," she said of Kenin. "Mentally you have to go into matches like that thinking you can beat them without a doubt."
Dolehide was into the championship to face Maria Sakkari, world No. 9. Her doubles run with Muhammad had ended with a semifinal loss, but a Tennis Channel graphic showed the stunning disparity between the two finalists' tournament workload: 222 games and 16+ hours played for Dolehide versus 68 games in five hours for Sakkari.
"I tried to stay level-headed and focus only on myself and my recovery," Dolehide said. "I knew she was going to fight just as hard as I would."
Sakkari ultimately captured the title with a hard earned 7-5, 6-3 win. In her victory remarks, Sakkari praised Dolehide and her determination to keep improving.
"I admire her a lot asan athlete, too," Dolehide said. "We're all working toward some pretty big goals."
Dolehide had rocketed to world No. 41 as a result of her big week, and her autograph had become a prized souvenir.
"I signed a lot of hats, phone cases - even arms. When some kids ask me to sign body parts, I had to look at their parents to make sure it was OK," she said.
She also shared a special FaceTime with family back home in Hinsdale and elsewhere and fielded a lot of texts.
Dolehide's attention is shifted to the 2024 season, which she'll kick off starting Dec. 31 at the Brisbane International in Australia, a tune-up for the Australia Open later in January.
"I've put myself in a really good position for the year. It's definitely looking good," said the product of Burns Field's tennis courts. "To be one of the top American female tennis players has really been a goal of mine since I was a kid."