Getting To Know... Nicole Gibbs
Published July 26, 2013 12:02
STANFORD, CA, USA - Stanford University standout Nicole Gibbs caught the attention of the tennis world at the Bank Of The West Classic last year, winning a round and playing Serena Williams second round - after which the WTA legend had some very nice words about her. A year later and fresh from turning pro, Gibbs did it again, reaching the second round here before falling to Jamie Hampton.
Intelligent, insightful and most importantly, feisty - Gibbs has all the makings of a top player, so learn all there is to know about the young American in wtatennis.com's latest Getting To Know...
How did you get into tennis?
"I started tennis about the day that I was big enough to hold a racquet! My dad was kind of obsessed with tennis - he grew up playing tennis and played a little bit at college, so he had me hitting in the driveway over two trash cans with a board across the top when I was like two or three years old.
"Growing up I lived in Cleveland, Ohio, playing tennis when I could, and just playing a lot of sports in general - tennis, soccer, a little bit of softball, ice skating... I was always very active. A huge, weird combination of different sports. I started exclusively playing tennis when I was about 10, and when I was 11 years old I won my first national open - that's what really got me serious about tennis."
Talk about your family.
"My dad is a high school teacher. He's an English and newly-History teacher. My mom is a marketing VP - she just moved to Des Moines, Iowa, so my family is currently living apart. I also have a younger sister, Shannon, who was a really good player, ranked Top 50 in SoCal, but never loved the game in the way that I did. She's into drama and is looking into liberal arts targeted colleges - she really loved Amherst College when she visited it, so I think a school like that would be her dream school."
What has your coaching been like over the years?
"It's been kind of scattered! My dad was the only person who coached me until I was 12 or so. Then the USTA gave us a call and my dad heard from Jay Berger, which he freaked out about because he had been a Top 10 player. He was like, 'Okay, I'll trust this guy with you.' So I started going to USTA camps when I was 12, and from the time I was 12 or 13 until 14, I was training with a coach in Cleveland named Dave Paradzik. He really helped my game, pushed me, got me fitter - I was young but still, it was important at the time! Then I moved to LA when I was 14 to work with the USTA full time, and then I went through a bunch of coaches between then and when I left for school. I worked with Wade McGuire, then Ray Ruffels, then Tom Gullikson - a lot of really awesome names in coaching. But there was a lot of moving around and not a lot of stability with my coaching. For the last three years or so I've been working with Marc Lucero over the summers, and then obviously while I'm here, Lele Forood and Frankie Brennan. So a really ecclectic group of coaches - but I think that's one of my best assets, that I'm pretty versatile in terms of who I work with, I'm not super needy about having coaches on the road or which one is with me. So I've been very adaptable. And this summer I've been working largely with the USTA summer collegiate team, which is coached by Dustin Taylor, Lee Walker from the University of Memphis, and West Nott from USC, so just really an extra mixed bag of coaching situations!"
How would you describe your game style?
"I think the most defining trait is feisty - I stay in points pretty well, I play a lot of good defense - but then I can also use my forehand to dictate play. I think that's probably my strength on offense. I'm working to increasingly become an all-court player and use the net a little bit more, but I'm still not super comfortable doing that, so that's something I've really been working on more recently."
Who has been your toughest opponent so far?
"Serena. Obviously. Arguably the best female tennis player in the Open Era. When I played her here last year, I felt like I was in shock the whole time. I was playing Serena - it's not only she has all these titles and she's such a legend, but that was what I grew up watching on TV, so it didn't really make sense to me that I was actually playing her. But retrospectively it was an amazing opportunity.
"It was flattering that she was very gracious in her presser. I've always looked up to her and Venus."
What are your goals?
"Within a year I would love to be Top 100. Within two years I'd like to be Top 50. I don't want to be greedy with long term goals, because I don't want to be presumptuous about my level, essentially. But I do think I can be a Top 10 player - that's my long term goal and where I want to be with my tennis."
What's your favorite surface?
"Hardcourt because that's my whole life! It's going to be tough to adapt to a three-four surface tour. I think I'm all right on clay, but pretty miserable on grass. I'll work that out by next Wimbledon."
Your favorite tournament?
"Bank Of The West Classic is amazing, because it's right at home, but the US Open takes the cake. It's the Superbowl of tennis. It has an amazing atmosphere and it's an amazing place to be an American."
And your favorite shot?
"Probably my forehand - depends on the day though. I can do more things with it than any other shot."
Tell us a little bit about your education.
"I went to Crossroads High School for the majority of my high school experience. I actually skipped 10th grade - that's a fun fact! I went to a public school in Manhattan Beach for my first year, and me and my dad started looking into the possibility of me skipping a grade because I was ahead in a lot of different classes, and he initially wanted me to graduate a year early so that I could go and play pro for a year before I go to college, but still be a freshman age and not feel weird when I came in. So, his private school, Crossroads, that's where he teaches, said they could essentially do it for us, they could let me skip the grade and get out of high school in three years. So I did that. I was going essentially 8 to 12 every day and training 1 to 7, with maybe a one hour break in between, so it was a lot.
"At Stanford I shuffled through a lot of different ideas for majors. Initially I came in wanting to be a Psych of PoliSci major, and I really enjoyed Psych, but I got frustrated because I got a lower grade in one Psych class than I'd wanted, and I got all angry, and I was like, 'I'm not gonna major in Psych anymore.' Which is a ridiculous reaction in retrospect. Then I changed to Econ, because I thought that was probably the most pragmatic major you could possibly have. But I started my Econ major in my sophomore year and ended up having to do tons of Econ in my junior year, because I wanted to get as far through my major as possible and make sure I was done with all the core classes to make sure I'm not coming back when I'm 30 trying to do Econ core classes with Multivariable Calculus - that's not going to happen. So this year I took a total of nine classes, three each quarter, which is pretty standard. But seven of them were Econ classes, so it was a nightmare, especially my winter quarter was just insane. I took all Econ, and two of them were core classes, so I was just not loving life.
"So that's been my trajectory. I think I have 20 to 25 more credits in Econ for when I come back."
When did you decide to turn pro?
"I made the decision last summer, to some degree. I called Lele, my head coach, before the New Haven Open. I was like, 'I'm freaking out. A lot of people are pressuring me about going pro. I'm panicking under the pressure, I need to make a decision, help me make this decision.' She was like, 'Nicole, come back one more year, we're going to make sure you're in better shape a year from now to go pro than you are right now. You'll only have to come back for a year rather than two years, which is way easier to think about.' After clearing that up with Lele and feeling reassured about where I would be for the next year, my results rebounded from a slump I had had while being uncertain about my future. After the call, I qualified and won a round at New Haven before falling to Kvitova in a good match - my best result of the summer. And when I came back it was under the premise I'd already told Lele and Frankie this was my last year, and this was my year to develop to be ready to play pro tennis.
"The exact moment I turned pro, though, was when I took prize money at Wimbledon."
What are your main hobbies?
"Surfing. Absolute No.1 hobby. My boyfriend is a very avid surfer. We've been together almost two years now, and he really got me into it about a year ago, and I've just been a total surf junkie since then. I live in Santa Monica, so it's really easy for me, but I'm completely irrational about it - I'll train for tennis for like five hours then come back and be like, 'There's enough light!' I get so tired, but it's honestly totally worth it, because it's just my way to regain peace of mind after a busy day.
"It's so soothing - unless you get like a really big wave coming."
Describe yourself in one word.
"I like the word feisty. That's me."
If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be?
"I have two and they're completely different in substance. The first is Obama. I think he's awesome, I'm a big fan. I think he's really cool. And then on a much less intellectually-driven note, I would like to meet Adam Levine from Maroon 5! He's my personal hero. Growing up I only listened to his music and his albums. Songs About Jane was my soundtrack to life growing up, so he would be my other one."
Finally, if not a tennis player, what do you think you would be?
"I've said this before: There's no life in which I'm not an athlete. I'm too competitive and have too much drive to get out there and just lay it on the line. Maybe soccer or volleyball, although I really like the individual sports. But I can't see myself as a boxer, so I'm going to nix that one."