Our contributor Karen Helf completed her week in Carlsbad with the singles final and after the event she talked to both the champion and the runner-up. Read on for her detailed account of the title match.
The first Carlsbad Classic is now in the books and the name Yanina Wickmayer is forever on the trophy. The final was a thrilling display of powerful tennis and a test of wills. Yanina fought off a solid challenge from Nicole Gibbs winning 6-3, 7-6.
1st Set Higlights
In the first set it appeared that Yanina would have an easy day. She was up 5-0, playing aggressive tennis and making very few errors. Gibbs seemed a bit overwhelmed. Perhaps nerves were a factor.
Back on serve, Gibbs held her first service game despite a shaky start. Gibbs pulled out an ace and a forehand winner to hold 5-1 and things started to shift. Gibbs immediately broke Wickmayer to 5-2. Back on serve, Nicole was chasing down balls and serving more aggressively, but also had more second serves. Yanina uncharacteristically hit returns wide, and long. Gibbs held to 5-3. The crowd responded.
Yanina was now serving for the set. Nicole issued a challenge to 30-30, but Yanina hit a cross court winner and a short shot that blocked Nicole at the net. Set Wickmayer, 6-3. Yanina yelled come on!
2nd Set Highlights
Gibbs started on serve and held 0-1. Despite multiple deuce points, Yanina closed her next service game with a net kill to hold 1-1. Gibbs’ next service game was up and down with an ace and a double-fault. She eventually found the line to hold, 1-2. Wickmayer immediately asked for her coach.
Yanina had multiple foot faults in the next game and made several errors. Gibbs was running down everything and captured the break to 1-3. Gibbs held her next service game with bigger serves that pressed Wickmayer out of her range. With the score 1-4 Gibbs, a third set seemed in the cards.
However, Wickmayer had other plans. Her next service game was the longest of the match with sixteen points and five deuce exchanges. Gibbs hit a fantastic lob that clipped the line and she pumped herself up with a come on! Yanina had Nicole on the run and hit a smart drop shot winner. Game Wickmayer, 2-4. Determined Wickmayer dug herself out of the hole breaking Gibbs next service game to 3-4.
Back on serve, Yanina held to 4-4 and was pushing Gibbs to make errors. The pressure was now squarely on Gibbs to stay in the match. Nicole stepped up to the challenge hitting two out-wide aces, cross court winners and defending well. Yanina was crushing balls and running Gibbs side to side.
The raw emotion was now visible. Gibbs held serve, but still requested her coach, 4-5 Gibbs. Yanina played a flawless service game, holding to 5-5. The pressure back on Nicole. She continued serving well and hit crosscourt winners, holding 5-6. Yanina now served to stay in the set. This was another long game with three deuce exchanges.
Yanina hit blistering winners and Nicole continued to find success hitting cross court. Yanina served down the tee and Nicole’s return sailed long. Wickmayer held to force a tiebreak at 6-6.
Yanina immediately took charge of the tiebreak, serving well and pressing Gibbs going up 4-0. Then Gibbs began to find her rhythm. Once again Gibbs hit crosscourt winners and Yanina missed a critical point at net. The score was now 5-3 Wickmayer. Yanina’s next return sailed long, score 5-4.
The crowd was getting behind Gibbs, but Yanina held despite missing her first serves. Gibbs netted a backhand, giving Yanina a first look at match point. One point was all Yanina needed. She quickly won it without hesitation. Final score 6-3, 7-6, Wickmayer.
I was fortunate to catch up with both Yanina and Nicole post match.
Yanina expressed her excitement at capturing the title and being the tournament’s first singles champion. She praised her coach and spoke words of appreciation for his support on and off court. This recent pairing looks like a good one. Yanina was happy with her performance and ability to design points today. She kept to her strategy taking balls early and staying aggressive. When Gibbs pulled ahead in the second set, she told herself to focus and stay positive. Being up a set gave her the confidence to stay aggressive.
Yanina loved playing the Carlsbad event and she is in fact staying another week as part of her off-season training plan. The tournament is a perfect alignment. After the win today, Yanina will start 2016 inside the Top 40.
Nicole wore a smile when we spoke. She felt she defended well today, putting a lot of extra balls in play to stay in points. She acknowledged that her serve started slow, but improved in the second set. Nicole knew she missed opportunities to take care of offensive points today, but experience is a great teacher. Discussing the tie-break, Gibbs felt she played well but sometimes your opponent is “too good.”
Gibbs and her coach Roger Smith are also a new pairing that looks promising. This week Gibbs was also focused on getting her ranking up to make the Australian Open qualifying draw. The jury is out, but we wish her luck.
In closing if you missed then event, then there’s always next year. Mark your calendar now. The final drew a great crowd and the competition was exceptional. Speaking with fans, the level of play exceeded their expectations. Players on the hunt for points always make for exciting matches. See you next year in Carlsbad.
Previous reports from the inaugural Carlsbad Classic: