Sophomore Nicole Gibbs won her first individual title as a collegian on Tuesday, knocking off junior teammate Mallory Burdette at Taube Family Tennis Stadium to win the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northwest Regional Championship. On Wednesday she sat down with The Daily to discuss her win, the women’s tennis team and the balancing act that is college life.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What was it like for you to come out and win the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northwestern Regional Championships women’s singles title on Tuesday against your teammate, Mallory Burdette?
Nicole Gibbs (NG): It was actually a really big mental and tennis accomplishment for me, just because I haven’t won a tournament since 2007 by some series of unfortunate events. I’ve played in eight or nine finals in tournaments and hadn’t been able to convert on any of them. And while playing a teammate is never fun…it is not as fulfilling when you have a teammate lose in the finals on the same day as you win. It detracts a little bit and obviously that’s tough, but it takes away a bit of the sense of celebration after the tourney because you don’t want to see your teammate lose. But I’m definitely happy with the way my tennis is going and happy to have broken through and won finally.
TSD: Did you focus on anything in particular on Tuesday? Was there any kind of key to your win?
NG: I played really great defense, I was staying in points where my opponents had control, but I was kind of just gritting it out–running down balls and playing really solid defense. I had a lot to improve offensively, and I’m ready to continue to develop before the spring season comes around. But my defense was definitely a strength and is what led me to the win.
TSD: Last year the team came so close to winning a national championship against Florida. What was it like to be a part of that and how does it motivate you today?
NG: There is always a very different feeling in the team events compared to individual matches. And honestly, I put a lot more store in the results that the team achieves; it’s just more indicative of the entire team effort, and it’s more important to us than the individual events. Last year we had a few unfortunate things happen late in the year–losing All-American Kristie Ahn to an injury really hurt–and with her out for the finals…given the circumstances we competed unbelievably well, came within a few points of winning the title. So retrospectively, everyone was really proud of our effort and seems to be motivated for next year.
When you talk about Stanford tennis, it’s a program that literally sees the distinction between a good year and bad year as winning a championship or not. We aren’t content, and while we did the best we could with what we had last year, we want to really maximize our team’s potential this year and put ourselves in a good position to win the title again.
Stanford: What has been the biggest adjustment to the college game?
NG: With pretty much every other sport, the players at a collegiate level are used to competing in team format. In our sport, some players play high school tennis, but it isn’t widely done. And the top players in the country tend not to play. With the college game, it’s a very unique feeling, competing for yourself but also for the team. The matches have a different dynamic. When you’re standing on the sideline with this team, it’s unlike any other team. You see what they do day-in and day-out, and you know they have prepared themselves to the best of their ability for whatever day. When you do the best you can and know they are doing the best that they can, it’s not too nerve-wracking or hard to watch. When push comes to shove, they’ll come through, and I definitely have that confidence in all my teammates and look forward to watching all of them play.
TSD: What do you really love doing the most when you aren’t on the court?
NG: Well, to be honest, I really like going out on the weekends and just trying to maintain that sense of balance. Even though college tennis and academics are really rigorous, I try to remind myself that this is supposed to be fun. I’ve definitely made the most of the campus nightlife. Outside of that, I just love doing anything that’s athletic. We played powder-puff football with my sorority last week, so I just love the active community here at Stanford. It’s a really healthy and great place to be a student-athlete.
And on top of that, I love watching NBA basketball. So I follow that closely, and I used to be a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, but that ship has kind of sailed. Now I’m kind of a bandwagon Celtics fan since I hate the Heat and Lakers so much. And on campus, I absolutely love going and supporting other teams. My three favorites so far this year have been women’s volleyball, soccer and football. It’s fun going to their games and getting to know the players. And I think it’s even more fun when my friends are out there competing, and that’s very unique to college athletics.
TSD: As for you personally, why Stanford? What brought you here?
NG: Well first of all, [tennis coach] Lele [Forood] is great. She really cares about all of her players, and she runs a really good program. She is so knowledgeable about the game and just knows so much tennis, so she influences the players in a very good way. And what brought me here was kind of just the legacy. Only Stanford can claim such a great number of championships paired with how rigorous the academics are. I always tell people that I was a giant nerd, and when I was 10 I really wanted to go to Harvard. But then I got good at tennis, and I figured the Ivy League might not allow me to maximize my potential. So I asked my dad which school is best at athletics and academics in the country, and he told me that Stanford was probably my best bet. From age 12 until I committed to come here, I was just head-over-heels with the school, and when I visited I just knew this was the place I wanted to be.
TSD: O.K. now I know this is all subjective, but what has been the toughest class you’ve taken thus far on the Farm?
NG: Well I’m in Math 42 right now, and I’m really kind of struggling. But I’ve taken a bunch of challenging classes–there was an advanced political science class I took without having taken an introductory political science classes, so that was pretty tough. I’d say just that the math classes are really getting to me, however, and I’m not looking forward to Math 51 in the winter. I’m just hoping to get through it without doing too much damage to my GPA.
TSD: With your family having played a lot of tennis, what was it like growing up? Was there pressure from your parents to keep playing?
NG: Well, tennis was pretty much everything. My great-grandfather played and passed it off to my grandfather, who passed it on to my dad. And my dad has been gung-ho about the whole lifestyle since I was one year old. He had me hitting over two trash cans since then and was kind of obsessed. And actually I hated tennis with a burning passion–I have some pretty horrifying memories of not wanting to go out to the courts and hit. But something clicked, and then it wasn’t about my dad asking me to go play, it was something I loved. That’s really when I started to take off, and ever since I’ve loved competing, and I think it’s showed in the results.
TSD: You’re only a sophomore, but what are your personal aspirations in the game of tennis?
NG: As far as this season is concerned, the central goal is just to win a team championship, and for me I want to do whatever I can to make that happen or help make it happen. Long term, I’m pretty dead set on playing the pro tour. I want to see how I can do when it’s just about the tennis. When I’m out of the collegiate lifestyle, and I have a sole focus on improving and becoming the best I can be, I want to give it a shot and see how far I can go. I have a certain amount of confidence that I can prepare myself and be ready for the pro tennis tour.