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Posts Tagged ‘Stanford’

PostHeaderIcon Former Cardinals Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs Continue to Impress

NIcole Gibbs

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 Burdette

Mallory Burdette

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.

PostHeaderIcon Seeds Cibulkova, Hampton Overcome Inspired Opponents at the Bank of the West Classic

Hampton-wins

Dominika Cibulkova [3] 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.”

BOTWD Cibulkova vs Voegele

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 [4] defeats Nicole Gibbs 7-5 6-7(5) 6-3

Nicole Gibbs

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!”

Madison Keys

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.

PostHeaderIcon Bank of the West Round-Up for Wednesday (7/24)

Aga-slides-to-a-ball

Radwanska Wins the “Battle of Crafty” Against Schiavone at Stanford

In an entertaining match that lived up to its’ billing as a battle between two of the craftiest players on the WTA tour, Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 6-3 in the featured night match at the Bank of the West Classic.

Francesca came into the match with a slight 4-3 lead in their career head-to-head, but Aga was the one coming into the match with the momentum, having won their last three meetings. After tonight’s straight-set win, make that four!

The conditions on the stadium court were perfect. As the match began, both players took their time in the first few rallies to find the range on their shots while also probing for any signs of weakness in their opponent. Aga struck pay dirt first: with excellent defense, solid net play, and aggressive hitting on her serve and forehand.

It was a different story on the other side of the net for Francesca. Against Mallory Burdette, she’d managed to quickly find the depth on her strokes to keep her Mallory pinned back on the baseline. On this night against Aga, Francesca struggled to keep the ball on the court.

Aga-presser

With unforced errors flying from both wings of Francesca’s racquet, Aga jumped out to a 5-1 lead in a “battle” that was starting to look more like a rout! But with her back up against the wall (and Aga serving for the set at 40-15), Francesca finally found her range and began hitting out with a vengeance. She fought back to break Aga’s serve in that game, and secured a second break to bring the match back on serve at 4-5.

Unfortunately for Francesca, her comeback ended with a double fault on set point. To her credit, she continued to battle hard in the second set, but was unable to maintain the high level of play that had helped her mount a comeback in the first.

The second set offered more of the same, with Aga clearly up to the task on Francesca’s sliced shots. And in a welcome contrast to the first set, Aga successfully served out the second to book her spot in Friday’s quarterfinals.

This match may not have gone the distance, as many had hoped, but it did feature some fine shot-making from both women: including deft drop shots, beautifully-placed lobs, and a reflex backhand crosscourt slice drop shot from Aga that was reminiscent of a similar reflex shot that she hit in Miami.

When asked about the shot afterward, even Aga admitted thinking, “Oh my God, it’s in again!” Now that she’s gotten the first match under her belt and is more familiar with the conditions at Taube, Aga’s going to be very tough to beat for the Stanford title.

Varvara Lepchenko

Day Session Match Results

In the earlier matches on the stadium court, Varvara Lepchenko defeated Tamira Paszek 6-4 6-4; and Sorana Cirstea defeated Coco Vandeweghe 6-3 6-3.

Lepchenko versus Paszek, the first featured match, was a battle of players who’ve both struggled to make their mark in 2013. This was Paszek’s third appearance in a second round match this season, and the lack of confidence in her ground game was apparent.

Varvara’s had her own struggles as well (including coaching issues with the USTA), but still managed to close out this match on her fifth match point. Next up for Varvara is a quarterfinal date with Radwanska.

Coco, last year’s losing finalist to Serena Williams, never got her game going in her match against Sorana Cirstea. With a game that’s based heavily around her big serve and ground strokes, her performance against Sorana was inadequate, with 8 double faults and a 47% first serve percentage. She struggled to hold serve and was broken four times. Coco’s groundstrokes also let her down as she sprayed shots all over the court.

For her part, Sorana played solid tennis for the win. This will be her second trip to the Bank of the West quarterfinals. Her opponent will be Olga Govortsova.

PostHeaderIcon Bank of the West Preview/Picks for Wednesday 7/24/13

Aga Radwanska

Tamira Paszek v Varvara Lepchenko [6]

H2H: Tied at 2-All

The most relevant matches in their head-to-head are the last two matches played on carpet (’11) and outdoor hard (’12). Tamira won the first in a 3-set match that lasted 3 hours. Varvara won the second in a 3-set match that last nearly 3 hours. If the pattern holds true, get set for another long one!

2013’s been a tough year for both players. Varvara’s struggled to maintain the level she achieved in ’12, while Tamira’s struggled to even get past the first round at any tournament through most of ’13. The lack of confidence might show in the quality of shot-making, but their prior history should provide for a fairly competitive match. I’ll stick my neck out on this one for Varvara in three sets.

Sorana Cirstea v [Q] Coco Vandeweghe

H2H: Tied at 1-All

Coco won the first time they played in ’11 in a 3-set match lasting almost 2.5 hours. Their next meeting at this year’s Australian Open was pretty much a whitewash for Sorana in straight sets. Given the status of both in their respective seasons, it’s unclear whether this match will look like either of those previous two.

Sorana’s had a tough year, making it past the R16 at only one hard court tournament. Though she always has potential to be dangerous, her 19-17 record coming into Stanford can’t provide her with an excess of confidence.

Coco’s status as a qualifier pretty much says it all, since she’s spent much of the season qualifying for main draws in WTA events. But even though she’s a qualifier, she’s also one of last year’s finalists: which probably helped immensely in coming through the qualifying rounds. She’s on comfortable ground, and on a roll in terms of match wins.

I’ll give the edge to Coco in this one. If her shots are landing cleanly, it goes two sets. If she’s making a ton of unforced errors, it goes three.

Francesca Schiavone

Agnieszka Radwanska [1] v Francesca Schiavone (Featured Match)

H2H: Francesca leads 4-3

This match, which could easily be titled “I Can Be Craftier than You”, features two of the best thinkers/strategists on the pro tour, and has the potential to be one of the most entertaining of the week.

Aga doesn’t have the power of Serena or Maria, but reads the ball well and defends with the best of them. She has an uncanny ability to use her opponent’s power to her own advantage, which helped her to overcome Maria in the ’12 Sony Open final, and take Serena to three sets in the ’12 Wimbledon final.

I’m not sure that skill will help Aga against Francesca, a player who specializes in spin over power. She can hit with an extreme amount of spin from both her forehand and single-handed backhand wings. And her slice is one of the most formidable on tour. It’s no surprise that Francesca’s biggest title came on clay at the ’10 French Open.

Francesca needs a fair amount of racquet prep for her shots, especially her forehand.  This can get her into trouble on faster hard courts with the big hitters.  Aga’s shots don’t have the same pace, so Francesca’s 4-1 record on hard courts show’s that she’s not nearly as troubled by Aga’s game on this surface.

The problem for Francesca in this match-up is that she’s on the backside of her career, while Aga is on the upside of hers.  Aga’s game has improved, and dramatically so since ’10. Francesca’s game has plateaued and declined since her peak moments in Paris. It’s no coincidence that Aga has won their last three matches: one each on hard court, clay, and grass.

Though it’s been two years since they last played, I don’t see Francesca overcoming this new and improved Aga; and I’m not talking about the blonde hair. Aga has pushed herself to be more aggressive to win points outright instead of waiting for errors. Francesca will throw the kitchen sink at her, but it won’t be enough to stop Aga from winning in two sets.

PostHeaderIcon Young Americans Day at the Bank of the West

Madison Keys

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.

PostHeaderIcon USGO Post-Match w/Men’s Open Champion, Elisban Rodriguez

This past Monday at Stanford’s Taube Family Tennis Stadium, Elisban Rodriguez defeated Sean Burns in a tightly-contested United States Gay Open (USGO) men’s Open final. Coincidentally, Elisban’s life partner – Toby Hays – defeated Gordan Paitimusa to take home the 2012 title.

Historical records of past USGO’s are scarce, but I think this is perhaps the first time that life partners have won consecutive USGO titles. And it couldn’t have happened to two nicer guys. Though their games are distinct, both guys are great competitors with quick smiles and words of praise for their opponents.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Elisban (via email) for some post-match thoughts on his opponent, his big win, and his relief at not having to play Toby for the title.

sean-elisban

Congratulations on your win in the final. Would you say that was your toughest match of the weekend?

Thank you.  All of my matches were tough in their own way, but having to play Sean Burns in the final was especially tough because he’s a very experienced player who can analyze your game, then find ways to break it down in order to beat you.

Did you feel pressure to get the match completed before the rain? And did that affect how you played?

I definitely felt pressure to close out the match before the rain started to hit.  I was up 5-3 in the second set when I felt the first drops, and I knew that I had to close out the match before we had a rain delay that could shift the momentum.  I definitely went for big serves, and tried to finish the points fast in order to close out the match quickly.

Had you played Sean before? What was your previous record against him?

This was the first time we played each other in a tournament. We’d previously only played 3 practice sets against each other, and he beat me in all three.

sean

I heard you mention “taking risks” when you were talking with friends after the match.  Do you feel like you had to take big risk in order to get this win?

I knew that I had to be the aggressor against Sean because he’s so good at the net.  If I allowed him to get to the net, I knew that my chances of winning would be greatly diminished.  If I didn’t take big risks, I knew that I wasn’t going to have the big reward at the end.

Was your big forehand weapon the most important part of that risk-taking?

Actually, my serve was the most important part of my game in the final.  It allowed me to take those risks. I knew that I had to hit big first serves and be very aggressive on second serves in order to be competitive with Sean.

What was the most satisfying part of your win against Sean in the final?

It was the moment that I won the final point and realized that I’d actually won.  Coming into this tournament, my goal was simply NOT to lose in the first round. So it was quite satisfying to have no expectations coming into the tournament, and then come away with the title; especially against a great player like Sean.

elisban-toby-friends

Shifting gears a bit… You played Sean in the final because he beat your partner, Toby, in the semifinals. What would it have been like for you if Toby had won his semifinal?

Having to play Toby in a tournament is something that we’re always worried about, especially in the early rounds.  I was glad that if we did have to meet one another, it would be in the finals, and that at least one of us would come away with the title.

Would that have been a difficult match for you mentally and emotionally, kind of like the matches between Venus and Serena?

I don’t think that it would have been emotionally hard since we would be happy that both of us made it to the final.  Mentally, however, it would have been really tough because Toby and I know each other so well that we’d have to work hard to outsmart each other on the court.

Did Toby give you any advice and/or words of encouragement before you went on to the court?

The funny thing is that Toby said that he wanted to give me advice, but didn’t know what to tell me.  He was very encouraging, supportive, and happy for me to be in the finals.

How did you celebrate your victory?

I was going to celebrate my victory with a Jamba Juice after the match, but didn’t have enough time since we were called back to play our doubles final against Sean and Adam Berman.  The celebration is still to come. 🙂

Do you have a favorite Jamba Juice smoothie?

Anything with an orange flavor. I haven’t been there in almost two years so I can’t really remember the flavors. Sorry.

elisban-front

I see that you and Toby lost the doubles final. Were you sad that you couldn’t get the doubles win for Toby?

Yeah, I was sad that we couldn’t pull off a win for Toby. I wanted him to also be part of the celebration for his achievements in the tournament. But I was still happy that we made it to the finals.  And I was happy for Sean and Adam too, since both of them had loved ones in the crowd cheering them on.

Now that you and Toby have won the Men’s Open singles title for the past couple of years, are you going to try and see how long you can keep the dynasty going?

We’re very happy that both of us have won the USGO title at least once, but only time will tell if we are healthy enough and playing good enough tennis to win it again.

Last question: will your trophy get its’ own display, or will it go next to Toby’s trophy from last year?

We have one display case where all the trophies get equal treatment regardless of who won it.  The USGO trophies have a special place, so they will be side by side there.  I’d like to thank the tournament staff, all the people who supported me, and thank you for covering LGBT tennis and doing such a great job.

No thanks needed. 🙂

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