NEW YORK—Working on Nicole Gibbs’ My Tennis Life series over the past few months, we at TENNIS.com and Tennis Channel have had the privilege of getting to know the 24-year-old on a more personal level.
She’s tenacious, funny, determined and extremely open.
The Stanford Cardinal has had her fair share of ups and downs in her brief career, which Ed McGrogan brilliantly covered in his piece following her first-round win over Verónica Cepede Royg on Tuesday.
Coming into the US Open, Gibbs was coming off one of those down periods. Ranked 127th—her career high was No. 68 just last summer—the American missed a large portion of the season to rehab a leg injury and lost seven straight matches between the Australian Open and the French Open. On the season, she’d won just three main-draw WTA matches.
But at Flushing Meadows last week she found her form, defeating Francesca Di Lorenzo, Patty Schnyder and Naomi Broady in succession to reach the main draw of the season’s final Slam.
In the second round of the US Open on Thursday afternoon, playing under the spotlight of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Gibbs pushed No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova to a third set before finally falling, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
The Czech impressed in the second and third sets, dictating play with her booming serve and forehand, but what was more fascinating was watching Gibbs—seven inches shorter than her opponent and far less imposing—compete with the top-ranked player in the world. She didn’t merely stay in rallies by putting the ball back in court; she went toe to toe with the world’s best player and nearly beat her.
Gibbs played terrific defense, retrieving bullet after bullet off of Pliskova’s racquet, but she also wowed with sensational return winners. Amazingly, the American had 32 winners to Pliskova’s 29 and was superior at the net (7 of 9 compared to 12 of 19 for Pliskova).
But Pliskova had the superior serve—11 aces to Gibbs’ four—and the qualifier couldn’t take advantage of her many opportunities, converting just two of nine crucial break points.
Gibbs captivated the crowd on Thursday, filled mostly with fans who had probably never heard of her and only identified with the flag next to her name. But she surely gained a new following in defeat. The clear underdog, with her left knee taped up, you could feel her fight from the nosebleeds. She remained cool and composed throughout the match—a couple of racquet drops notwithstanding—and left the stadium to a standing ovation.
She lost the match, yes, and is out of the tournament. But considering what she’s endured this year, and where she was just days ago, that experience has to be considered a win.
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