FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – Nicole Gibbs’ introduction to WTA play as a full-time pro went fairly well. She won her first round match over Kiki Bertens in impressive fashion and then stuck in there for a long stretch against world No. 29 Jamie Hampton in a 7-5 6-7(5) 6-3 loss.
Gibbs has improved good deal over last year as she isn’t just a quick, scrappy player and can now do some serious damage with her forehand. She’s not tall, but appears to have a good court sense, which she will need in the years ahead, because she isn’t gong to be overpowering a lot of players.
But being a two-time NCAA singles champion shows that she has a winner’s mentality and it would be surprising if the Santa Monica native doesn’t establish herself as at least a tough out on tour and end up having a profitable career. She has a similar game to that of teenager Lauren Davis, another vertically challenged player with a lot of heart and under stated power.
“I was concerned with figuring out how I matches up at 30 level and I proved to myself I can compete and hopefully turn those into wins in the near future,” Gibbs said. I’m disappointed in the result but at same times there are a lot of positives. I want to hold myself to a higher level .I need the mindset of playing bigger tennis.”
Hampton hits a pretty big ball and for the most part Gibbs went right back at her, but the favored player of the Stanford football team (five men of the gridiron came to cheer her on, including quarterback Kevin Hogan) did play a little too passively at times. Moreover, Hampton didn’t play very well at all, although she competed hard, which has been her trademark this season.
Now Gibbs will head down to Carlsbad to try and qualify for the Southern California Open, and really, that’s where her real test will begin because it’s much easier to play well on a court where you have had so much success and in front of adoring fans than it is on some side court in front of a handful of people trying to qualify.
But “Gibbsy” — as she’s nicknamed — can take hope from her former teammate Mallory Burdette WTA success, who in just a year’s time has already cracked the top 80. Gibbs doesn’t hit as hard as Burdette does, but she is faster and during their college years together was a bit more of an accomplished player, largely do to her deep reserve of self-belief.
“I have every confidence in her,” Gibbs said of Burdette, whom she will likely see a ton on tour. “She is one of the best ball strikers in the world and her success has inspired me.”
Even though it’s been rare for the collegiate ranks to produce super elite pros over the past 25 years, college has produced some solid ones and Gibbs has the look and sound of a player who will do her university proud in the pros.
Instead of what should have been a very fun and intriguing face off against her friend Madison Keys, Hampton will play Russian veteran Vera Dushevina, who took out the 18-year-old 7-6 (0), 6-2. As I wrote earlier this week, even though Keys’ massive potential is very clear, she is still very much a young teenager who has to learn how to get her negative emotions in check. She’s a better player than Dushevina is, but she’s prone to losing her cool and then becoming extremely erratic. She is also super hard on herself and was said to have had tears in her eyes after her loss, which is not the first time that has occurred this year. Recall that was still crying pretty hard two hours after her tight loss to Monica Puig at Roland Garros. She is wept after losing to Li Na in Sydney.
“My timing was off, everything was off,” said Keys. “It just wasn’t my night, and it was frustrating. But obviously, she played really well. All the credit to her.”
Some players cry, others don’t, but continuing to be super frustrated by a bad night at the office is not going to help Keys learn to grit out wins. Hampton knows that better than anyone, as she can be stress monster too, which—according to her — has been one of the reasons why her back injury has flared up during some critical matches. But she has got that largely under control this season, which is why she’s cracked the top 30. Clearly, she has a shot at a top 16 seed at the US Open with some solid play over the next month.
She, Keys and Sloane Stephens all have a chance to be the unofficial Young US Female Player of the Year in 2013. It will be super interesting to see who ends the season with a big smile on her face, and with her tears ducts fully closed.
The other three quarters, in order of Friday play, will feature Sorana Cirstea vs. Olga Govortsova, Dominika Cibulkova against Urszula Radwanska (who scored a gutsy two tiebreak win over Daniela Hantuchova), and then starting at 8 PM PST, Agnieszka Radwanska will go up against Varvara Lepchenko. The US isn’t done yet in Palo Alto, but then again, neither is Poland.