Good pro start for ‘Gibbsy:’ Nicole shows promise in loss to Hampton

Gibbs Stanford 13 TR MALT2006


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.





Hampton still a bit understated as Keys grabs attention


Keyes Stanford 13 TR MALT9561

Madison’s huge potential is clear, but Hampton is developing into a big time player.

By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – The Emirates Airline US Open Series kicked off on the WTA side when Jamie Hampton strode into her first all access hour as she is seeded for the first time at an event, and is No. 4  seed at at Stanford. At WTA 700 level tournaments, all four top seeds must do pre-event press. On the same Monday, last year’s finalist CoCo Vandeweghe had to qualify for the tournament, even though she’s American and performed wonderfully last year before being stopped by Serena Williams, but tennis tends to have short memory and IMG, which owns the tournament, has its own set of priorities when it comes to handing out wild cards.

Two ex Stanford players – Mallory Burdette (who lost) and Nicole Gibbs (who won) – got WCs and that’s understandable given that the Stanford community has always supported the tournament and you have to take care of your committed (and paying) fan base. Daniela Hantuchova got another, as she’s a proven decent draw, and the fourth was given to IMG client Ajla Tomljanovic, a promising up and comer from Croatia who was promptly wiped out by Stefanie Voegele.

The Bank of the West suffered two big pullouts this year and a significant no-entry: Maria Sharapova decided not to try and test her hip injury too early and also wanted to spend time with her new coach Jimmy Connors and sent her regrets; Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli decided at the last minute that she needed some rest and she withdrew from Stanford and Carlsbad; and Serena  decided not to defend her title and instead compete last week on clay in Sweden, where she easily won the title against a weak field.

So Stanford is left with a very decent, but not great field headed by the creative No. 4 Aga Radwanska, whom almost everyone loves to watch play but not as many show up see in person as they would for a Sharapova or Williams; the up and down veteran Sam Stosur, who is trying to put together her first good two-month stretch this season; the fun yet volatile Dominika Cibulkova, who has been injured way too much this year; and Hampton, whom few are talking about as a Bank of the West title contender even though she’s cracked the top 30 and her US Open doubles partner, Madison Keys, has not yet. But because of Keys’ enormous potential she is the one who is being tagged as the young American who could actually win the Stanford title. Keys, who crushed eight seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2 6-2 on Monday,  surely does have a chance to reach the quarters and possibly face, believe it or not, Hampton, her friend whom she practices with constantly and whom she will play doubles with at the US Open.

But make no mistake – Hampton is very, very good. She may not have Keys’ outright power but she has a lot of pop and she moves more fluidly. As she is becoming more comfortable in her own skin and has become a more self-aware player, her shot selection has become more intelligent and she can also rip the ball off both wings, especially with her forehand. Plus she is a real jock who loves her sport and spends many waking hours thinking about it, and she likely dreams about it, too. She has no points to defend until the US Open, so it’s entirely possible that she could grab a top 16 seed in New York if she stays healthy.

After playing eight matches at Eastbourne and reaching the final, she fell in tired fashion to Sloane Stephens in the first round of Wimbledon. Like Stephens, at this point, she is ahead of Keys’ on the learning curve. But she is 23, while Stephens is 20 and Keys only 18. Everyone knows that Madison is coming hard, but at least for this year, its possible that Hampton and Stephens—who have done better at the Slams – may be the players outside of Serena Williams to watch at the US Open.

Here’s Hampton on being seeded for the first time at Stanford – or anywhere for that matter.

“It’s nice to go into a tournament fresh and it’s really excited for me and shows how far I come,” she said.

Radwanska on the ESPN the Body Issue

In a piece I did for Reuters here,  Radwanska says she  was upset about the reaction from some of Poland’s large Catholic population over her decision to pose nude for ESPN the Body Issue. I didn’t read every comment leveled at her, but did read a few which contained the word ‘immoral.’ Anyone who saw the ‘semi-nude’ issue – which celebrates athletic bodies and is not gratuitous in the least — and thinks that it was immoral is not thinking clearly. As someone who grew up in a large Catholic family that contains priests and was an altar boy until I could get a real job (uh, that’s a joke), I can attest to a diversity of opinion amongst the Catholic community as to the what is moral and what is not. However, at the end of my interview with Radwanska, I mentioned how crazy it is for any Catholic to object to those photos given that anyone who  has  looked at the works of the great Catholic painters (does Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel ring any bells?) and not seen nudity celebrated amongst the saints and she agreed: it’s absolutely nuts to suggest that she was doing anything but showing that a healthy physical lifestyle can be beneficial to everyone. People who live a lifestyle that includes constant exercise and a pursuit of excellence are not only worth looking at, but are great examples for kids.  I am pretty sure that the man who inspired the writing of the New Testament would agree with that.

This is the first of 21 straight reports/bogs/columns that I will be doing from Stanford, Carlsbad and Toronto, so stay tuned.