WHAT HAPPENED: On Tuesday, American wild card Nicole Gibbs earned her first-ever US Open main draw victory, defeating France’s Caroline Garcia in three hard-fought sets. On Thursday afternoon, she proved that victory was no fluke, advancing into the third round by gutting out a 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 upset victory over No. 23 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before a partisan crowd on Court. 17.
Gibbs, who served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set, and held one match point in the tiebreaker, didn’t wilt under the pressure against the talented Russian striker. Although she squandered a 6-5 tiebreaker lead, falling 8-6 to force a decisive third set, Gibbs composed herself and broke Pavlyuchenkova three times in the third set to earn the gritty win.
“I wanted to take this opportunity against a player that talented and experienced,” Gibbs said, “and this crowd really pulled me through.”
From the outset, Gibbs had crowd support, and absorbed its energy. Her groundstrokes were relentless, powerful and precise. In first set rallies that featured more than eight shots from each player, Gibbs prevailed in every one. She won a lengthy fifth game – at eight minutes – for a 3-2 lead and surged ahead 5-2 off a Pavlyuchenkova mishit, one of 54 unforced errors she had in the match. The Russian fought back to 5-4, but Gibbs employed a big serving game at just the right time to secure the 6-4 victory.
The second set was back-and-forth with Pavlyuchenkova, 23, producing games of brilliance and others that were error prone. The Russian kept in the set by pouncing on repeated balls that Gibbs played down the middle. Though Gibbs strayed away from driving balls deep into each corner, the 21-year-old from Santa Monica, Calif., still had three opportunities to win the set. Nerves may have taken their toll on the youngster, but she regrouped nicely in the final set.
A poised Gibbs jumped to a comfortable final set lead. She flicked a picture-perfect topspin lob over Pavlyuchenkova’s head to break for a 4-2 advantage and closed out the match on serve.
WHAT IT MEANS: Gibbs received a wild card into the US Open in 2012 and 2013 after winning the NCAA Tournament singles titles while competing at Stanford. She earned her third consecutive appearance into the main draw this year by winning the 2014 USTA Pro Circuit Challenge. In the third round, she will carry momentum into a match with Italian Flavia Pennetta, the No. 11 seed who defeated Gibbs 6-0, 6-2 in last year’s US Open opening round. Asked how she plans to play the talented and experienced Pennetta, Gibbs joked, “I am going to try and improve on that [match].”
THE QUESTION: Can Gibbs continue her magical US Open run and upset another seeded player in Flavia Pennetta in the third round?