KEY BISCAYNE, Fla.—Nicole Gibbs was very accustomed to winning a lot of matches—in college. Taking her game to the pros has come with a lot of hard lessons, but things are beginning to turn around for the 23-year-old.
This week in Miami, after snagging a last-minute wild card into the main draw, she won her first-round match over Yulia Putintseva, 6-4, 6-2, and then upset No. 27 seed Kristina Mladenovic on Saturday, 6-2, 6-4.
“I definitely felt a little more confident this time around,” said Gibbs, who fell to the Frenchwoman in straight sets at the Australian Open. “I didn’t have the same level of nerves, or [thinking] this is a big match. It was more like it’s another day in the office.”
Just a few years ago, Gibbs was playing for Stanford and dominating the college circuit. She won two NCAA singles championship titles (as well as a doubles and team title) and compiled an 111-15 record after just three years.
But the pro circuit hasn’t come as easy.
“Just the volume of really impressive players that are on tour and taking losses pretty much every week, that’s something new to get used to,” said Gibbs. “At college I was used to running through a lot of matches and winning a lot of tournaments. And that’s just not the case—at least not immediately—on tour.”
Since turning pro in 2013, the Ohio native has scrapped together two ITF Pro Circuit $50,000 titles and spent most of her time just outside the Top 100. It’s a no-man’s land of the pros, with subpar prize money and scant main-draw opportunities.
In 2015, Gibbs lost 15 first-round matches in 29 tournaments. The pro tour struggle is not lost on the outspoken American: