Posts Tagged ‘Nicole Gibbs’
The qualifying rounds for the Western and Southern Open, the last big tournament in the lead up to the US Open, begin today in Mason. On the schedule are two former Stanford Cardinals who’ve continued to impress while making names for themselves as newcomers on the pro circuit.
Mallory Burdette, currently ranked No. 95, plays Monica Puig of Puerto Rico. Her former teammate and back-to-back NCAA champion, Nicole Gibbs, plays Johanna Larsson of Sweden. Given what I’ve seen from these two in Stanford the past two years, both have as good a chance as any to make it through qualifying rounds and into the main draw.
As a member of the “media”, I do my best to be as objective as possible when writing and reporting on players. These two make that a difficult task, however, for many reasons. They’re intelligent, well-mannered and well-spoken. They’re eager to learn, and aren’t afraid to “put in the hard yards” in order to get results. Moreover, they’re just really nice young ladies who you can’t help but root for and like.
I first met Nicole and Mallory at the 2012 Bank of the West. Both had been given wildcards into the main draw. After a first round win over a qualifier, Nicole got the unfortunate assignment of playing Serena Williams (fresh off of her Wimbledon victory) in the second round, and lost in straight sets.
Mallory got the more manageable assignment of playing Ann Keothavong (of Great Britain), and won a hard-fought 3-setter for her first main draw victory. She lost in the second round to Marion Bartoli, but still managed to do well enough through the US Open to take the big step of going pro.
Nicole stayed on at Stanford to train, get better prepared for the jump to pro tennis, and most importantly, to help her team win one last NCAA championship. She succeeded on all fronts, winning her second NCAA singles title and helping the Cardinals overcome the odds to win the team championship.
Nicole and Mallory had won the doubles title together in 2012, so it was definitely a loss for Nicole to have her friend and partner hit the road as a pro. But it also became a source of inspiration, as Mallory paved the road and showed that it was possible to translate their collegiate success to the pro tour.
“There was no doubt in my mind as soon as (Mallory) went that she was making the right decision and that she was gonna be top 100 quickly. And her success has definitely inspired me and helped me to believe that I could do the same thing with some time.”
Her experiences of playing the top players has also helped her to realize that success as a pro is within reach. Though she hasn’t taken many games off the top players she’s played in the past (3 against Serena and 6 against Kvitova), she feels like she’s not far from being able to “hang” with them.
“I can play at this level, and that’s exciting for me.”
If both can make it through this weekend, it will be exciting for all of us! I hope to see them both when I arrive on the grounds for the start of Monday’s main draw matches.
Dominika Cibulkova  defeats Stephanie Voegele 7-5 7-6(5)
Worries about fitness and the lingering effects of an Achilles injury fell by the wayside for Dominika Cibulkova after she overcame Stephanie Voegele of Switzerland 7-5 7-6(5) in the first match of the day on stadium court.
She showed no signs of slowness or hesitation, but did sport a layer of physio tape on her lower leg. “The tape is for prevention. My Achilles will always be tough to deal with because I have this problem with the bone. That’s why my physio has to take good care of it so that I can keep playing.”
Though her leg was fine, the rust in her game was another matter. She struggled to close out the first set after leading 5-2, only doing so after breaking the Voegele serve in the eleventh game to take it at 7-5.
With the first set under her belt, Dominika looked poised to close out the second in more direct fashion. Voegele had other ideas, once again working her way back into the match after Dominika had lead 5-2.
Fittingly, the second set ended in a tiebreaker that Dominika won with fearless hitting from her forehand at 5-all, before serving it out on her first match point.
When asked afterward if she’d expected such a tough match from her Swiss opponent, Dominika was very complimentary of her Voegele’s abilities.
“I expected a really tough match because she’s playing really well at this time. I played her long time ago but remember how she’s playing close to the lines.”
“I just made it tough for myself. In the end I made it, but it could be easier for me.”
Jamie Hampton  defeats Nicole Gibbs 7-5 6-7(5) 6-3
Fourth-seed Jamie Hampton had her hands full overcoming her own “rust”, as well as the inspired play of Nicole Gibbs; who was making her professional debut at this tournament after a stellar career at Stanford.
Rust on Hampton’s part was understandable, since this was Hampton’s first match of the tournament after receiving a first round bye as one of the top 4 seeds. “I’ve been here for a week now and I haven’t played. And I’ve never done anything like that before.”
The lack of sharpness in Hampton’s game was less of an issue, however, than the dogged determination shown by Gibbs.
Hampton might hit a harder ball than Gibbs, but Gibbs showed no sign of intimidation as she moved her opponent from side-to-side to keep the ball out of Hampton’s wheel house, and to expose any footwork weaknesses.
The first set was tightly-contested until a loose game by Gibbs at 5-all gave Hampton the crucial break, and allowed her to serve it out at 7-5.
The second set, won by Gibbs in a tiebreak, was an equally tight affair; made more so because of Hampton’s mounting unforced error total as she mixed winners and unforced errors interchangeably throughout.
After the match, Hampton was asked specifically about her serving difficulties on the day when she offered this assessment of her overall play: “To be honest, I just felt like I was struggling in general today.”
In spite of the efforts of her Stanford football team cheering section, Gibbs game began to unravel. The third set saw Hampton draw upon her experience as pro to serve bigger and hit bigger on shots that finally started to find their mark. There was little Gibbs could do than just say “too good”.
Gibbs managed a brief comeback (after falling behind 0-4) to get back on serve at 3-4. But she couldn’t sustain the momentum, and gave up one final break for 3-5. Hampton quickly closed out the match for the win.
Gibbs was remarkably upbeat after the match, and happy with the fight she showed on court. “The biggest takeaway is that I can play at this level, and that’s really exciting for me!”
Other Match Notes
Daniela Hantuchova lost two straight tiebreakers to hand Urszula Radwanska a 7-6(3) 7-6(3) victory, and her second straight appearance in the Bank of the West quarterfinals. This loss is sure to stick with Hantuchova for because of the seven straight points she lost in the second set tiebreaker after leading 3-0.
Vera Dushevina beat American Madison Keys in the evening match on stadium court. Keys was unable to get any aspect of her ground game on track during the match, and was also done in by Dushevina’s strong service returns.
Keys is widely touted as one of the top prospects for future US slam success. And while it’s true that she has an immense amount of talent, she also still has a long way to go in terms of developing a more complete game to compliment her strong serve and ground strokes.
The Bank of the West Classic has long been known as a showcase for young American talent. Monday’s lineup continued that tradition with a featured match by up-and-coming star, Madison Keys, making her Bank of the West debut against Magdalena Rybarikova. Unfortunately for Madison, it was pretty a rocky one.
Serving to start the match, she dropped that game at love with the help of three unforced errors. But once she managed to settle down, she played solid (if not spectacular) tennis to defeat Rybarikova 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour.
When asked about her slow start, Madison attributed it to nerves and court conditions. “I think it was a little bit of nerves. And then the court was really fast. So just trying to get used to everything.”
“I mean, first tournament, hard court, I think you’re always a little bit nervous especially at the beginning of a tournament. Just trying to work your way into it.”
And that’s exactly what the teen from the Quad Cities had to do on a night where the match stats weren’t great for either player. Both served in the mid-50’s range with respect to their first serve percentages: not great by any measure.
Madison, however, won the battle in terms of first-serve points won (70% to 57%). She also won a greater percentage of her second serve points (48% to 26%). And though Madison double-faulted three times to offset her four aces, she still managed better than her Slovakian opponent, who hit only two aces against three double faults.
Madison’s ground game, normally a strong suit, wasn’t up to her usual standards. But it was more than up to the task on this night. Unforced errors on her forehand wing were offset by brilliant backhands down the line that seemed to wrong-foot Rybarikova time and again. And when needed, the forehand still mostly found its’ mark.
The most important statistic of the night was the 2/4 break points that Madison saved versus the 6/12 that Rybarikova battled. It’s tough to win matches when you’re fighting that hard to hold serve. And on this night, Madison had the upper hand.
Still, she’ll need to clean up her unforced errors and find a way to settle into her matches a lot quicker if she wants to go far in the same half of the draw that includes Jamie Hampton and Aga Radwanska. She lost to Radwanska in the third round of Wimbledon, but learned much from the experience.
“She’s obviously Top Five for a reason. I think it’s the big points. She played them well and I think I made a couple of dumb mistakes. And I think that was kind of the match.”
With her big serve, big forehand and aggressive play the future looks bright for Madison. But she still keeps her immediate goals very simple. When asked if she has any goals that what she wants to accomplish during the summer hard court season, she said, “I want to be happy with how I’m playing. And come off the court, win or lose, and know I did my best.”
Being on the Stanford campus around other students her age wasn’t lost on the 18 year-old Madison, who could easily be in college herself if she weren’t playing tennis on the pro tour. “As nice as (the thought of college) is, I’m pretty happy where I’m at.”
The quote of the night came when she was asked what her hypothetical major would be if she were in college. After a moment of thought, the answer was an unequivocal, “Anything without math!”
Other Match Notes
It was a mixed bill for the two Stanford alums on today’s schedule. Mallory Burdette lost in straight sets to Francesca Schiavone while two-time NCAA champion Nicole Gibbs bested Kiki Bertens, also in similar straight sets.
After a breakthrough performance last year, Mallory came into this year’s tournament with a solid year as a pro under her belt. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to the task of Schiavone. Though not playing her best tennis these days, Francesca is a seasoned veteran who knows how to win matches with speed, spin, and guile. All of those things contributed to Mallory’s undoing.
When asked about her biggest takeaway from the match, Mallory replied “You don’t really see things in a match until after you get off the court and look back at it. So I’m looking forward to looking back to the match to see where those couple of points were where I got tight or she stepped it up and took it away from me.”
Nicole Gibbs won in the late match on stadium court. The quick second set followed a titanic struggle in the first set that saw Gibbs down a break at 3-4. After winning three straight games to take the first set, Bertens had no answers in the second set. Gibbs win puts her on a collision course with fellow American Jamie Hampton in the second round.
It would be tempting (and easy) to do a “Best of 2012” piece with the usual cast of characters in their usual roles. But after some thought, I figured it might be better to do a “Best of” piece from my new perspective and experiences as a journalist. By doing this, I can maybe highlight and help people appreciate the things that you don’t see “behind the scenes” when all you have available is crappy network TV coverage. 😉
So without further ado, here’s Part 1 of my “Best” moments for 2012, in no particular order.
(Note: This will be a multi-part series so that it doesn’t end up being the size of ‘War and Peace’)
Best Post-Match Press Conference under Adversity (WTA): Yanina Wickmayer, Bank of the West
Yanina had just lost a hard-fought (and very winnable) 3-set semifinal match against Coco Vandeweghe in the midday sun, and was pretty disconsolate. One could see that she’d cried after this one by her red eyes. With her previous back injury as an excuse, or with the heavy strapping on her thigh, she could easily have begged off for post-match treatment. But she didn’t. She came to the press conference, red eyes and all, sat down, and answered questions on her loss while making no excuses her performance. I came away from that press conference with immense respect for this young lady. Her game my escape her on court, but she’s sure got a lot of heart.
Best Post-Match Press Conference under Adversity (ATP): Andy Roddick, SAP Open
After yet one more injury (and another injury-related loss) to start his 2012 season, Andy came into the pressroom at the SAP Open in an understandably foul mood, trademark cap pulled down tightly on his head. It was one of those moments when you knew that if he thought there would be no fine, he would already have left the arena. The drumbeat for his retirement had been growing louder over the past year, and he himself could not deny that it was getting tougher and tougher to weather the injuries. Yet there he was, doing his best to not just walk away from it all… at least not yet. The timing wasn’t right. Fast forward to the US Open, and the rest is history as he was finally able to walk away from the game on his terms.
Mr. Personality (ATP): Novak Djokovic, Western and Southern Open
The big tournaments typically use the services of a transcriber to record all player interviews. The transcriptions are then emailed almost immediately to all journalists on the official lists. When Novak sat down at the table for his pre-tournament media Q & A, he got there before the transcriber had a chance to get situated at her machine. This is what happened at that moment, as she tried desperately to jump over media to get to her machine and start typing:
This is Novak at his best. He’s toned it down after criticism of his antics from other players a few years back. But Novak is what Novak will always be: a fun-loving guy who will find any opportunity to make a joke, even if he’s dog-tired and just arrived on-site after winning another tournament only days beforehand. The presser started and ended with laughter, a rarity in the very serious world of pro tennis. When you see this first-hand, it’s easy to understand why he is so well-liked wherever he goes.
Ms. Personality (WTA): Serena Williams, ANY TOURNAMENT
Whether you love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Serena is one of the more interesting players on tour. At a time when we are treated to the same WTA talking points in interview after interview, Serena will (more often than not) toss the script on its’ ear and talk about everything from her favorite TV shows to dating to fashion. Of course this is presuming that she’s just won her match before she comes into the interview room…which she usually does. Some of my favorite pressroom quotables from the Bank of the West are listed here. By the time she got to the Western and Southern Open she was a little tired, so the quotables weren’t as “tasty”. But it doesn’t matter. I’d still try to make a Serena presser over a Caroline or Aga presser (just as examples) any day.
Most Impressive College Duo (WTA): Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette – Stanford University, Bank of the West
These two young players were both given wildcards into the Bank of the West draw based on their performance at the NCAA tourney, and both made good use of their opportunity by making it to the second round. Even though Nicole lost to Serena Williams and Mallory lost to Marion Bartoli, both young ladies comported themselves well and did Stanford proud. In the pressroom, both were intelligent, articulate, engaging. They’re impressive young ladies, and I’ve become a huge fan for each. Nicole also gets a second mention in my “Best of” list…
Most Surprising Press Conference Moment (WTA): Nicole Gibbs, Bank of the West
Nicole garners a second mention in my list because of her connections with the Cleveland area. After mentioning that high school friends had told me I went to high school with her uncle, she came up to me afterward and said, “Well you must know my dad too” and motioned to him at the back of the pressroom. Sure enough, I did. It was a very odd, but great, “small world” moment in the world of professional tennis.
Stay tuned for Part 2.