2022 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame: Caroline Stoll
Caroline Stoll will be inducted into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame at the 35th Annual Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, to be held Friday, August 26, 2022. Proceeds from the event—including ticket sales—will benefit the Junior Tennis Foundation (JTF), which helps provide scholarships to junior and adaptive players across the Eastern Section. You can purchase tickets to the event here. Learn more about the ceremony and the JTF here.
Caroline Stoll is a former professional player on the WTA circuit who was ranked as high as 15th in the world. Although she only competed on the tour for three years—opting to retire in 1980—she reached seven tournament finals in that time, ultimately winning five of them. Throughout the course of her short career, she collected victories over 1977 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici, three-time Grand Slam finalist Wendy Turnbull and Australian Open finalist Dianne Fromholtz. She reached the third round of the US Open twice.
Some of Stoll’s success can be attributed to her style of play, which was considered quite unorthodox for the time. On her forehand, Stoll possessed an extreme Western grip—“all the way in the Pacific,” she says with a laugh—which produced an extraordinary amount of topspin. The balls off her racquet could fly up and over her opponents’ heads, a height to which not many of her competitors were accustomed, especially in an era characterized by the flatter hitting of players like Tracy Austin and Chris Evert. Stoll also relied on a slice backhand that she deployed with a lot of sidespin, as well as a high fitness level and a mentality to chase down every shot. Naturally, she loved the clay and won three of her titles on the surface.
“I wasn’t very popular, let’s put it that way,” Stoll says. “I know my opponents would just go, ‘Ugh!’ Especially if you drew me on clay. You had to be prepared, you had to bring a snack, because you knew you were going to be out there with me for a long time.”
Interestingly, Stoll developed the style largely on her own. She grew up in Livingston, N.J., and primarily taught herself how to play the game at the age of eight, mostly hitting a ball against a wall in a nearby park, sometimes for upwards of six hours a day. She gripped the racquet the way she did not because she saw Bjorn Borg playing that way on television, but simply because that was the way she always held it.
Even as she entered Eastern tournaments and attained the No. 2 ranking in the 12-and-under age division in the East, she never attended a tennis academy or worked extensively with a paid coach. Stoll’s mother drove her to indoor clubs that would offer free court time and instruction from a teaching pro so the clubs could advertise that a top player trained there. Her one constant was her uncle, who, over the course of her entire playing career, would feed her tennis balls so she could practice on her hometown courts and generally “had the patience of a saint with me,” she says.
Still, what she lacked in resources, she more than made up for in grit and competitive spirit.
“All I wanted to do was play tennis,” she says. “Within a year [of playing junior tournaments], I said ‘I’m going to be a pro!’ My parents just looked at me and said, ‘Okay. Well, if you practice hard, you can be a pro. You can be anything you want to be.’ They were unbelievably supportive, not pushy at all. I mean, they wanted me to back off.”
Backing off, however, was not in Stoll’s DNA. In 1976, she captured the girls’ singles title in the 16-and-under age division at the Easter Bowl, a renowned tournament for high-level juniors. A year later, she returned and repeated the feat in the 18-and-under category. To date, she is one of just eight players to lift trophies in both age groups at the event.
Stoll in particular looks back fondly on her 1977 victory, specifically because in the quarterfinals she defeated Austin—who, at 14 years old, had already claimed her first professional title and just weeks earlier had made national headlines when she upset Fromholtz at a pro tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
“She had received so much press, and she was destined to be the best junior,” Stoll recalls. “So that’s probably the win that said to me, ‘Okay, you can be right up there too.’”
Shortly after, she’d get a chance to prove that to everybody else as well. As a result of her Easter Bowl run that year, Stoll received a wild card into a pro tournament in Port Washington, N.Y. She’d ultimately reach her first WTA final at the event, defeating Renee Richards in the semis to face No. 1 seed Billie Jean King. The 12-time Grand Slam singles champion had become a bit of a hero to her young opponent, although Stoll recalls telling a reporter before the final that she planned to “take King’s poster off her bedroom wall” as preparation. In the end, hiding the artwork didn’t matter. King won the match easily, 6-1, 6-1.
“I was just intimidated,” Stoll says. “That was one time where my dedication, my drive, and everything else that had got me that far just went on vacation. But [Billie Jean] was so nice and encouraging. She said ‘Wow, you’re really up-and-coming. Keep going.’”
Stoll took the advice. Over the next two years she’d go on to capture five titles: In Ogden, Utah, where “the altitude helped my topspin and the balls were bouncing halfway to the moon”; in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; in Montreal, Canada; in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and finally, in Berlin. Perhaps her most impressive run-of-form on tour occurred in May 1979, when she reached a final in Vienna (ultimately losing to Evert) and then a week later defeated top-seeded Turnbull as well as No. 3 seed Ruzici en route to lifting the trophy in Berlin.
Astoundingly, she achieved the great results all while dealing with some personal turmoil— during the tournament in Vienna, someone stole her purse from the player’s locker room. She lost her passport, plane tickets, family photos and more in the robbery and had to visit the American consulate in Austria just to be able to fly to Germany. “I remember sitting there going, ‘I don’t even have my Chapstick!’” she says. “But yeah, that was my most memorable time. The German Open was by far my biggest title, and it was strung together quite nicely.”
Injuries and homesickness would ultimately get the better of Stoll, and, in 1980, the then 20-year-old decided to retire from the sport and attend Rutgers University. Although she only briefly competed on tour, during that time she flew as high as the tennis balls that routinely upended and dismantled so many of her opponents, amassing an enviable record that some of her more formally-trained counterparts would not achieve.
“A lot of people were given financial help, they received coaches,” she notes. “I was just given a good, solid backbone, a good heart, and unconditional support from my family. I took it on myself. I’m proud of the guts I had against the odds.”
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