After giving us updates from the Carlsbad Classic kick-off day, a brief summery of three subsequent days and detailed reports from the Thanksgiving singles and doubles action and Friday’s singles quarters and doubles final, our Karen Helf is now sharing her impressions from Saturday’s singles semis.
On Saturday November 28th, Nicole Gibbs took on fellow American, Jennifer Brady for a spot in the Carlsbad Classic singles final.
The first set was all Gibbs. Nicole was playing aggressive tennis and Brady was playing not to lose. The first set score 6-0, so let’s move on. The second set got interesting. Jennifer was solving the puzzle and began making adjustments to her game. Her style was more aggressive and Nicole began to take notice.
Although Brady was broken at the start of the second set, both players were now making errors. Gibbs held serve to go up 2-0. With Brady back on serve and in trouble, things started to get intense. Fifteen points later, Nicole was up 3-0, but Jennifer played as if to say I’m here and not going anywhere. Brady hit on the run winners and controlled the point a number of times.
At deuce point, Brady hit a screaming forehand winner. You could hear the crowd saying nice. Brady slipped a few times which was unfortunate. Nicole played solid tennis winning the crucial points where Brady did not. She took the game now up 3-0.
Next up Jennifer earned her first break of the match. She found the corners and played scrappy tennis. Gibbs also offered up a double fault. The score now 3-1. Brady held her next service game which contained a rally that I believe lasted nineteen shots. I admit I lost count. During Gibbs’ next service game, the score hit 40-30, but Brady failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Gibbs held, but it was clear Brady had turned up the heat. The score was now 4-2 Gibbs.
Back on serve Brady quickly held to 4-3. To follow up next she broke Gibbs. Gibbs was clearly feeling the pressure. She threw in a double fault and had to make four second serves. Brady took advantage of that. Jennifer hit aggressive returns and played a well disguised drop shot catching Nicole at the baseline. With the score now 4-4, Gibbs shot a concerned look to her box.
With Brady back on serve, Gibbs needed to collect herself now. Brady won only one point in her next service game. Gibbs took the break going up 5-4. Next the crowd wondered if Gibbs would hold her nerve to serve out the match. In short, that’s exactly what she did. Gibbs took all of the points, the set and the match, 6-0, 6-4.
Post match Gibbs spoke with me on the keys to her win today. She stuck to her game plan and kept her sights on closing. She knew Brady’s level of play was dead even with her at 4-3 and she could not let her back into the match. She was absolutely feeling nerves at 4-4 and told herself to stay calm as this is what great players must do at critical points. This year Nicole learned that she belongs where she is on WTA tour. It is clear she has confidence in her abilities and the mental strength to match.
Most fans were not aware that Nicole had another reason to feel pressure today. Closing out 2015, she is on the cusp of making the cut for Australian Open qualifying. As she goes into her final tomorrow, that pressure will come along for the ride. Perhaps it will also serve as motivation. When asked about facing Yanina Wickmayer for the title, she acknowledged the skills of her opponent and knows she will have to stay focused on her game plan to have chances. A strategy session with her coach is on the agenda.
Yanina Wickmayer also won her semifinal match today in straight sets over Maria Sakkari, 6-4, 6-2.
As a Stanford graduate, something tells me Nicole will be the crowd favorite tomorrow. The singles final begins at 1PM Pacific. Be sure to get on the road early to avoid holiday traffic delays. Come on out and root for the home team.