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:


“That was hard for me thinking here I am this competitor and I can’t even string together two wins,” said Gibbs. “I had moments where I thought I don’t know if I can do this, maybe this just isn’t the right path for me.”

But 2016 has, if not proven, perhaps reassured Gibbs that she’s on the right path. After qualifying for the Australian Open and reaching the second round, she made the quarterfinals as a qualifier in Monterrey and then—after qualifying, of course—upset Madison Keys on her way to the fourth round of Indian Wells. There, she fell to eighth seed Petra Kvitova in three sets.

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Along the way, Gibbs may have found a second calling—writing. Since penning her first blog as a WTA Insider, she has gone 12-2. She also has nearly 12,000 followers on Twitter (@Gibbsyyyy), but what’s more impressive is that she’s one of the lucky 154 accounts followed by LeBron James (@KingJames).

Gibbs’ tennis game is finally catching up with her Twitter game.

“I’m on cloud nine, kind of not asking questions, but also kind of asking questions,” said Gibbs. “I don’t know! I think [James] accidentally followed me. It’s so confusing. Last week he direct messaged me and he was like, ‘Great job this week. Keep it going.’” (The two have actually chatted back and forth quite a bit).

James has over 29 million followers, and earlier this week made headlines for unfollowing his own team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

DJ Mike Posner also likes what Gibbs is throwing down on Twitter. She’s a huge fan of his music, especially his new hit “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.”

“I totally fan-girled and I couldn’t believe he started quoting my tweets,” said Gibbs. “I thought, ‘What is happening right now?’ I direct messaged him, and he followed me back.”

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Twitter stardom aside, Gibbs credits improved self-belief and a new partnership with coach Roger Smith for turning her game around. The duo started working together after the U.S. Open.

“Self belief has been one of the most important things,” said Gibbs. “The biggest thing I can look to is my partnership that I have with my coach. I love what he’s been doing with my game and I really trust him. With that comes a strong sense of belief in what we’re doing. He thinks I can be one of the best players in the world, which is really inspiring for me since I really look up to him.”

Though born in Cincinnati, Gibbs is now a California girl residing in Marina del Rey. She trains with Smith in Los Angeles and travels down to Carson to the USTA Training Center for fitness. When Gibbs isn’t spending time training or ramping up her Twitter followers, she’s on a longboard catching some waves or playing a little spike ball on the beach.

Now ranked at a career-high of No. 74, she faces fourth-seeded Garbine Muguruza next in Miami, a city that’s appealling to her on and off the court.