Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - August 2, 2013

Bank of the West Classic provides new opportunities and a new champ

by Rick Eymer

Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette already have put their individual stamps on the Bank of the West Classic the past two years, once as amateurs and, this year, as part of the up-and-coming class of American tennis professionals on the WTA Tour.

Last week, Gibbs and Burdette played professionally on the courts at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Center where they were wildly successful as college players. Both will see better days.

Burdette's run at the Bank of the West ended far too soon, in a first-round loss to Italy's Francesca Schiavone. Gibbs made it into the second round before losing to American Jamie Hampton.

Burdette, who turned pro last September, broke into the top 100, reaching a career-high No. 68 earlier in the summer. Gibbs woke up Monday morning with a career-high ranking of 166.

They both participated in this week's Southern California Open in Carlsbad, and both played Monday. Gibbs lost in the second round of the qualifying tournament while Burdette played in the feature match, dropping a three-setter to former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.

Burdette has been doing most of her work on the WTA tour, while Gibbs is just a few tournaments into her professional career, winning an ITF event in Yakima, Wash., earlier in July. It will be interesting to see where they stand when the Bank of the West rolls around again in July of 2014.

This year's event wrapped up on Sunday when No. 3 seed Dominika Cibulkova and No. 1Agnieszka Radwanska competed for 2 1/2 hours in the championship final before Cibulkova secured a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 decision over the world's No. 4-ranked player.

Cibulkova earned $125,000 while Radwanska took home $68,200.

They combined to give the tournament one of its best title matches ever. Cibulkova is the first Slovakian player to win this event and it helped erase the pain of a 6-0, 6-0 loss to Radwanska in the title match of a tourney in Sydney, Australia, earlier in the year.

Gibbs, just two months and four tournaments into her professional career, gave the 29th-ranked Hampton everything she could handle before losing to the tournament's No. 4 seed, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-3, last Thursday.

"At the end of the day I was concerned about how I could match up with the Top 30 level," said Gibbs, who earned $10,700 and 60 ranking points for her work. "I can hang with them. Now I'd like to start winning a few of these matches."

Hampton went on to reach the semifinal, knocking off qualifier Vera Dushevina, the Russian who beat Stanford's Kristie Ahn in the qualifying draw.

"It was my first match of the hardcourt season and I was shaking off some rust," Hampton said. "I didn't expect to be perfect but she gave me everything I could handle."

Gibbs hopes to take a couple of weeks off after Carlsbad and then ask for a wild card for New Haven, leading up to the U.S. Open, where first-round LOSERS take home $32,000.

Cibulkova figures to have a nice paycheck at the U.S. Open after winning at Stanford. In the championship, she collapsed, and covered her face in jubilation after recording the winning point. Moments later, her father, Milan, came rushing up to hug her. A precious moment for the Slovakian star.

"I was just so happy and he scared me," she laughed. "He gets emotional. I think that I have this after my parents that I get into the matches sometimes so much and I just put my heart into it. He did the same today."

Cibulkova earned her first win in five meetings against Radwanska, who has 12 career WTA titles in hand and 17 appearances in a final.

"I'm really happy, because she's No. 4 in the world and a great player and this is my first win against her," said Cibulkova. "And to come up with such a game in the final against such a great player, I feel really good."

Cibulkova used up four of her five championship points before the winning shot brought relief, joy, tears and happiness to the court.

"I started to feel a little bit tired," Cibulkova said. "In the long rallies, I started to feel my breath and my legs. The last match point I was so dead, I was so tired, but I knew I could not give it up now. I knew I just had to make one, two more balls and the match is mine."

Seven months after failing to win a game against Radwanska in the Sydney final, Cibulkova came out determined to erase that from her memory. She went back to watch the first set of that loss and, however painful, learned some lessons.

"The difference between Sydney and today was that I made the first game," Cibulkova said. "After the first game I looked at my coach and was like, 'Here we go. I'm out here, and it's going to be good today.'"

Cibulkova was aggressive, getting Radwanska to move, and yet she still had to overcome two service breaks in the final set, both on double-faults, to win the final four games.

"I didn't use my chances when I was 4-2 up, and I paid the price," said Radwanska.

The victory was Cibulkova's third career singles title, and first in nearly a year. Radwanska opened the year winning back-to-back tournaments in New Zealand and Australia.

In doubles, the top-seeded team of Cal grad Racquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears won the title, beating the No. 2 duo of Germany's Julia Goerges and Croatia's Darija Jurak, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

It was the fourth straight season that Kops-Jones and Spears had competed at the Bank of the West and their first title. The tandem reach the quarterfinals last year, their previous best finish.

The last time the top two-seeded teams reached the finale was 2011. Kops-Jones and Spears became the first American team to win the Bank of the West Classic title since Lindsay Davenport and Liezel Huber accomplished the feat in 2010.

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