July 11, 2012
STANFORD, Calif.- Refusing to quit and fighting until the final point, junior Nicole Gibbs walked off the court on Wednesday afternoon with a better understanding of what to expect at the next level.
Gibbs might not be quite ready at the moment, but she's getting very close.
Faced with the unique challenge of playing 14-time major champion Serena Williams only four days after her fifth career Wimbledon title, Gibbs was dealt a 6-2, 6-1 loss in the second round of the Bank of the West Classic.
Locked in from the start, Williams repeatedly pounded serves and painted lines, requiring only one hour and two minutes to secure the match. Simply put, the defending Bank of the West Classic champion would have beaten a lot of WTA-level players on Wednesday.
Gibbs can be proud of her performance on Wednesday. The 2012 NCAA singles and doubles champion continued to battle despite staring at a large deficit throughout the match.
When it was all said and done, the crowd cheered loudly for Williams, one of the sport's most iconic figures. Seconds later, the applause was even louder for Gibbs, supported vocally by her home fans and a large contingent of fellow student-athletes.
Williams came away impressed.
"She's a good player and doesn't quit," said Williams. "She hits the ball well. I thought she actually had a good first serve. It's good to see promising young American players coming up. She's a fighter, and that's important."
Williams stormed out to a 4-0 lead in the first set before Gibbs held serve to pick up her first game of the set. After trading games to make it 5-2, Williams held serve to close out the first set, 6-2.
The second set featured more of the same, with Williams jumping out to a 5-0 lead. Gibbs registered a break in the sixth game, slamming home a winner after Williams misjudged an overhead in the sun.
Williams was credited with seven aces, six of those coming in the first set. Williams won 78 percent of the points on her first serve, compared to 45 percent for Gibbs.
Overall, not a bad result for Gibbs, who was two years old when Williams turned professional in 1995. Another interesting connection is that Nicole, at age 12, was a ball kid during a match in Cleveland that featured Serena Williams. Gibbs has also served as a hitting partner for Venus Williams.
"I think Nicole learned a lot out there today," said women's tennis head coach Lele Forood. "She was certainly pretty impressed with the depth and the pace. Probably more the consistency of the depth. Plus, she knew darned well that the serve was going to be a monster to try and get her racket on."
Forood agreed with Williams' assessment that Gibbs was a "fighter".
"I think it's one of her best attributes, quite frankly. She doesn't quit. As a player, I think that's going to help her when she's on the tour. There are a lot of matches. There are a lot of weeks. You have to want to win them all and be ready to play them all. I think Nicole is one of those people who will be ready to play them all."
A three-time All-American, Gibbs is coming off one of the best seasons in school history, becoming only the third player in NCAA history to capture both the NCAA singles and doubles titles in the same season. Stanford's first NCAA singles champion since Amber Liu in 2004, Gibbs was also named the 2012 Honda Sports Award recipient and ITA National Player of the Year. In just two seasons, Gibbs has produced an 87-11 overall record and 48-2 mark in dual match play.
Later in the afternoon, Gibbs and senior Mallory Burdette dropped their main draw doubles match as the duo fell to Natalie Grandin and Vladmira Uhlirova 7-6 (5), 3-6, 10-6.
- Brian Risso