By Matt Cronin, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
STANFORD, Calif. -- Six weeks ago, Stanford’s Nicole Gibbs won the NCAA singles title and the doubles championship with her teammate, Mallory Burdette. On Wednesday at the university, she had the pleasure of facing her childhood idol, Serena Williams.
While the 19-year-old hung in there during some points, she still fell, 6-2, 6-1. However, Serena was full of praise for her game, so the soon-to-be junior in college has to be pleased with that.
"She played really well, she moved really well, and she doesn’t quit," Serena said. "You can give up, and she didn’t, and that's the best quality you can have as an athlete."
Gibbs’ coach at Stanford, Lele Forood, watched the match and knew that her top player was facing a huge hurdle in Williams, who just broke the Wimbledon record for total aces with 102. Plus, she’s won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, while Gibbs just won her first pro match on Tuesday.
"I think Nicole learned a lot out there today," Forood said. "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 racquet on. I think she was prepared, but you never really know until you face it."
Gibbs has not made a decision as to whether she will return to Stanford for a third season, but she sounds like she is leaning that way. A native of Ohio who went to high school in Santa Monica, she will play USTA Pro Circuit tournaments this summer and hopefully some WTA qualifying. She won a $50,000 Circuit event last week in Denver, beating Alexa Glatch and Julie Coin (the same woman who briefly came to fame when she upset Ana Ivanovic at the 2008 US Open). She’s a fast player, a fine counterpuncher and clearly has a strong amount of desire because it’s been a rare day when players have won both the singles and doubles at the NCAAs.
"She doesn’t quit," Forood said. "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."
College has clearly benefited a lot of players, such as Lisa Raymond, the No. 1 doubles player in the world who played at Florida, the Bryan brothers, who played for two years at Stanford and own a record-tying 11 Grand Slam titles, and top-15 player John Isner, who went all four years to Georgia.
But Gibbs has a big decision ahead of her because, as much as she loves Stanford, if she puts up good results in the summer and in the fall (even if she plays for Stanford in the spring of 2013, she is going to play pro tournaments in the fall) and proves to herself she can hang with the pros, she might want to continue to test her game against them.
"It’s a very tough decision, the toughest," said the 19-year-old Gibbs, who at the 2011 US Open juniors beat reigning Australian Open junior champion Taylor Townsend and Wimbledon junior champion Eugenie Bouchard. "I get really great competition at Stanford and the best coaching from Lele Forood. At this time last year, I wasn’t ready for the pros, but I’ve improved a lot. I’m more mature and don’t react as badly to losing points. I’m more even-tempered, which allows me to be more competitive."
Not only did Gibbs score a win at the Bank of the West, but so did her doubles partner, Burdette, whom, by the way, she beat in the NCAA finals. Burdette took a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over British veteran Anne Keothavong, who is ranked No. 75.
"I made a concerted effort to step up when I had a chance," Burdette said. "When the opportunities came along, I had to get into the net. Going forward, I think building up confidence and Gibbsy and I getting the wild cards here and having great experiences can only help us in the future and dealing with big moments."
Burdette won’t have to face Serena, but she will have to go up against another top-10 player in No. 2 seed and 2009 Bank of the West Classic champion Marion Bartoli.
"I like Marion," Burdette said. "She seems like such a nice player and fights so hard. That will be an experience for me, as well."
Bartoli had an unexpected surprise on Wednesday, when she got to hit with her childhood hero, American Pete Sampras, to warm him up for his exhibition against Michael Chang at Stanford. Bartoli first caught a glimpse of Sampras when she was six years old and he was playing Davis Cup against France.