By David Perez
It was a story of singles success for the Stanford women’s tennis team, as sophomore Nicole Gibbs won the Pac-12 singles championship in Ojai, Calif., this weekend, losing a total of four games in her final four matches.
Two other Stanford players, juniors Mallory Burdette and Stacey Tan, made it to the semifinals of the singles draw, making this the second year in a row that Stanford accounted for three out of the four semifinalists at the Pac-12 championship. The team of Gibbs and Burdette also made it to the finals of the doubles draw, where they fell 6-4, 6-4 to Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria of USC.
“It was awesome,” Gibbs said. “It was a great opportunity for me and I took advantage.” Gibbs, who was the top overall seed and is currently ranked third in the nation, lost in the semifinals of this tournament last year. This is the first singles title of her collegiate career.
She had a rocky start, losing the first set of her tournament 5-7 to UCLA’s McCall Jones after two rain delays.
“I didn’t come into my first round with confidence, and I was not striking the ball the way I wanted,” Gibbs said. She certainly found that confidence though, as she went on to beat Jones 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 before stringing off four straight victories in the next two days at 6-0, 6-0 in the round of 16, 6-2, 6-0 in the quarterfinals, 6-0, 6-0 in the semifinals and 6-0, 6-2 in the finals.
“Needless to say, I was pretty much feeling it after the first round,” she said.
Three out of Gibbs’ five victories came against Cal players. The only match against a non-Golden Bear came in the semifinal against her teammate Stacey Tan. Tan also made a very nice run in the tournament, which included an upset of California’s number one player, No. 7 Jana Juricova.
The other side of the bracket saw California’s Anett Shutting, ranked No. 96 nationally, come up with two major upsets. Shutting defeated Stanford’s Mallory Burdette, who is ranked fifth and was the tournament’s third seed, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals. Shutting also got past the second seed Robin Anderson, the only Pac-12 player to defeat Gibbs this season, in the quarterfinals. Anderson was forced to retire after the first set because of a hamstring injury.
Although Burdette lost in the semifinals, she remained optimistic about her play, especially in the postseason.
“Obviously I would have liked to have won that semifinal match, but I feel like overall I’m moving in the right direction with my game,” said Burdette. She had been on a 21-match winning streak, which included dominant performances in the teams’ recent Pac-12 matches.
Burdette and Gibbs also played very well in doubles, but fatigue may have been a factor in their finals loss. The two had played a combined 21 matches in the past week between Pac-12 regular season and tournament play.
“At least on my side of the court, I did not feel as mentally sharp, if not physically, as I normally do playing doubles,” Gibbs said.
The two look to make a run in the NCAA tournament, where Burdette took home last year’s doubles trophy alongside Hilary Barte, Stanford’s former No. 1 player.
“Honestly, I think we’re in an even better place than Hilary and I were at this time last year,” said Burdette, who noted that Barte did not even participate in last year’s Pac-12 tournament.
Four other Stanford players participated this weekend as well. The doubles team of Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay lost in their first round match. Tsay also lost in the second round of the singles draw, although she had a tough matchup with Anderson. In the invitational bracket, Natalie Dillon and Amelia Herring both dropped their first-round matches.
The Cardinal feels good about its chances in the NCAA tournament, especially because of where the tournament will be played. Opening rounds will be held at Stanford in two weeks, while the finals will be played in Athens, Ga. the week after.
“Athens is like a second home to us,” Burdette said. “I don’t even know how many times we have won down there in Athens, but it’s a lot.”