By Karen Feng
This year’s Bank of the West Classic features the top two American collegiate tennis players playing on their home court. Earlier this season, rising junior Nicole Gibbs and rising senior Mallory Burdette established themselves as top contenders in a historic Cardinal sweep of the NCAA Championships final in May. Gibbs and Burdette won the doubles draw and placed as champion and runner-up, respectively, in singles.
Both earned wild-card berths for the Classic. On Tuesday, Gibbs faced qualifier Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand (No. 162 in the world) at 11 a.m. After trailing 2-0, Gibbs recovered to take the first set 6-4 and battled through consecutive ties to take the second set 6-4 for her first Women’s Tennis Association win.
That evening at 7 p.m., Burdette took on No. 77 Anne Keothavong of Britain. She lost the first set 6-2 but bounced back to battle out the second and third set 7-5 and 6-4, respectively, for another Cardinal win.
With their singles wins, both qualified for the second round, with Gibbs facing first-seeded Serena Williams (No. 4 in the world) Wednesday and Burdette facing second-seeded Marion Bartoli (No. 10 in the world) Thursday. Both were also selected to play in the doubles draw against third-seeded team Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova on Wednesday afternoon.
At 3:25 p.m., Gibbs and defending champion Serena Williams, fresh off her fifth Wimbledon title this past Saturday, walked onto the Taube Family Tennis Stadium hardcourts to thunderous applause. Williams easily took a 4-0 lead in the first set with her signature powerful serves and groundstrokes, but Gibbs held on to take a game from Williams to move the set to 4-1 as the crowd roared. Williams took the next game, but then two straight errors by the favorite made it 5-2. There were cheers of “Go Gibbsy!” as groups of Stanford fans were refueled by Gibbs’s potential comeback. One more back-and-forth game closed the first set 6-2 in favor of Williams.
In the second set, Williams took five straight games as Gibbs struggled against her power and started making unforced errors near the end of games. In a dramatic sixth game served by Williams, Gibbs took the lead 40-15 and almost lost it as a frustrated and rejuvenated Williams took the advantage. Two unforced errors, however, gave Gibbs her first break of the match. A final Williams-dominated game earned her a 6-1 victory. Both sets took 62 minutes.
At the post-game press conference, Williams seemed impressed.
“It’s good to see promising young American players coming up,” Williams said. “She’s a fighter, and that’s important.”
Gibbs moved on after her loss to compete in the doubles match with Burdette at 5:40 p.m. on Court 6. The first set featured extremely close games, with the teams tied at 6-6. The tiebreaker, too, was tied at 3-3 until Grandin and Uhlirova made a break for it, leading 6-3 and eventually winning it 7-5.
The second set featured an early 2-0 lead by Burdette and Gibbs, though they would eventually give back ground as Grandin and Uhlirova pulled up to tie the set at 3-3. Three straight games by Burdette and Gibbs gave them the second set 6-3, evening the match and sending it to a decisive final set.
The third set was dominated by Grandin and Uhlirova, who won the deciding set 10-6, defeating the Cardinal duo 7-6(5), 3-6, 10-6.
Burdette will face the No. 2 seed of the tournament, Marion Bartoli, this afternoon in the singles draw at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium.