Singles showdown looks like a rematch | July 13, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 13, 2012

Singles showdown looks like a rematch

Wimbledon champ Serena Williams moves closer to facing Bartoli again in BOW finals after eliminating Stanford's Gibbs

by Rick Eymer

The finals of the 2012 Bank of the West Classic most likely will look like a repeat of the 2011 championship. The path to the last singles match looks that apparent for the favorites.

Barring a major upset along the way, defending champ Serena Williams will be facing '11 runnerup Marion Bartoli on Sunday at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Center at 1 p.m.

The top-seeded Williams only has to get past No. 6 seed Chanelle Sheepers of South Africa on Friday and likely No. 3 Dominika Cibulkova on Saturday to reach the finals. The No. 2 Bartoli, who faced Stanford senior Mallory Burdette on Thursday, was favored to face No. 5 seed Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium in Friday's quarterfinals. A likely Saturday semifinal for Bartoli would be No. 8 Marina Erakovic or unseeded Urszula Radwanska.

The differences between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' is that evident in this year's annual stop at Stanford. There is no Maria Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka to keep things interesting. Simply, the tourney title is for the taking between world No. 4 Williams and world No. 10 Bartoli.

Despite two weeks at Wimbledon and a long plane ride back to the states, Williams displayed her dominance in her first match with a 6-2, 6-1 dismantling of Stanford junior Nicole Gibbs on Wednesday. It was a matchup of Wimbledon champ versus Colorado International champ, one of the best players ever against the best college female player of 2012.

Williams came in with $38,035,392 in career prize money while Gibbs was penniless. Williams had 624 WTA-level main-draw matches under her belt while Gibbs had one. When Williams turned pro in 1995, Gibbs was two years old. Thus, the final score was expected.

Gibbs could only laugh when she double-faulted her first serve on the hot day.

"It didn't surprise me," Gibbs said. "I was like, 'really?' I can laugh at that one."

The result didn't matter so much to Gibbs, who was a winner the moment she took the court against her tennis hero.

"It was a great experience for me to match up against someone of that caliber," Gibbs said. "I got a lot of experience points if not physical points. It was a good bench mark for me to realize I can play at this level."

Gibbs gets another chance, too. The Santa Monica native was awarded a wild card for the Mercury Insurance Open in San Diego next week.

Gibbs and Stanford senior Mallory Burdette also played in the doubles tournament, losing to third-seeded Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 10-6. Burdette is headed to a $10,000 event next week.

"I thought Mal and I did great for our first time playing in a month," Gibbs said. "We're still meshing together. We just a little unlucky at some of the points. We proved we could play against the third seed of a major tournament."

Stanford women's tennis coach Lele Forood was a proud observer of the match.

"I'm sure Nicole learned a lot out there," she said. "She was impressed with the depth and the pace and she obviously knew darn well she would be seeing a monster serve and had to try to get a racket on it."

Gibbs, her left leg tightly bandaged from almost knee to hip, held serve twice in the first set and broke Williams for her lone point in the second set.

"She held her own today," Williams said of Gibbs, who at age 12 once served as a ballgirl for a Williams match. "She hits the ball well. She played well and moved well. She doesn't quit and that's the best quality you can have as an athlete. She's a fighter. It's really good to see such good Americans coming up."

Forood was quick to agree with Williams' assessment of the reigning NCAA singles and doubles (with Burdette) champion.

"I think it's one of her best attributes," Forood said. "She doesn't quit. As a player, I think that's going to help her when she's on 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."

Willliams, a 14-time Grand Slam winner, was credited with seven aces, six of those coming in the first set. She also won 78 percent of the points on her first serve, compared to 45 percent for Gibbs.

In other matches Wednesday, fifth-seeded Yanina Wickmayer topped Heather Watson, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, sixth-seeded Chanelle Scheepers beat Michelle Larcher de Brito, 6-3, 6-4, and unseeded Coco Vandeweghe upset No. 4 Jelena Jankovic, 6-4, 6-2.

Gibbs earned a shot at Williams by beating Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, 6-4, 6-4, in the first round on Tuesday. Burdette also advanced with a surprise 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Great Britain's top-ranked player Anne Keothavong, who is headed to the Olympics.

Gibbs earned a wild card into the main draw following a remarkable season with the Stanford women's team. She won both the NCAA singles and doubles title and then joined the USTA-sponsored college team that plays in summer pro circuit events.

She won the Colorado International title last weekend after first having to qualify for the main draw. That led to some added confidence when she took the court against Lertcheewakarn.

"That was perfect," she said after playing eight singles matches and five doubles matches in eight days. "I played a lot of players who were at the same level as the girl I played today. During the NCAAs I was tested a lot in every match and faced every competitive situation possible. That all happened."

Gibbs, who will be majoring in Economics, said she won't be playing any college tournaments during the fall in order to pursue ranking points and test the waters. As of now she's committed to playing for Stanford in the spring.

For Forood, it was a tremendous day with both of her players winning.

"It was a very fun day for me," she said. "We always project what stage of development our players are and today was validation that college players are not that far behind."

Burdette played her first match since the NCAA tournament ended. Gibbs played in her first matches of the summer last week in Colorado.

"When you play, arguably, the best player in the world you are going to see what it is all about," Forood said. "You get to see what you need to do better. That's the neat thing about summer, you get exposure to the next level."

Burdette, who had older sisters Lindsay and Erin in the stands rooting her on, had a moment of disbelief when she looked at the qualifying tournament and did not see her name on it.

"I called Lele to find out why I wasn't in it," Burdette said. "That's when I found out I was in the main draw. I was not expecting it."

In other matches Tuesday, Erakovic of New Zealand topped Slovakian and 2011 NCAA champion (from Cal) Jana Juricova, 6-2, 6-2; Radwanska of Poland downed Eleni Daniilidou of Greece, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; qualifier Erika Sema of Japan defeated American lucky loser Alexa Glatch, 6-2, 6-3; Sorana Cirstea of South Africa beat American Vania King, 7-5, 6-4; and lucky loser Saisai Zheng of China advanced when Japan's Ayumi Morita retired with a lower back injury.

Sunday's singles winner will earn $96,000 while the runnerup will get $53,000. Semifinalists will receive $28,500 from the total purse of $640,000.


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