Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 25, 2014

Stellar field set for Bank of West Classic

by Rick Eymer

With any luck, Stanford grad Nicole Gibbs hopes she won't get the chance to qualify for the Bank of the West Classic women's tennis tournament, which begins Monday at the Taube Family Tennis Center at Stanford.

Gibbs is competing in the USTA Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships in Lexington this week, with a possible wild-card entry into the US Open at stake. The semifinal round, slated for Saturday, conflicts with the Bank of the West qualifying tournament this weekend.

With one event remaining in the US Open Wild Card Challenge, Gibbs now leads in the standings with 88 points. She is followed by Julia Boserup (63 points), Oudin (48), Louisa Chirico (44) and Sanaz Marand (30).

Gibbs moved another step closer to playing in her third consecutive US Open main draw, capturing the USTA Player Development Women's $50,000 Classic with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 4-seeded Melanie Oudin on Sunday at the USTA Training Center West at StubHub Center in Carson.

The No. 2-seeded Gibbs, 21, is a two-time NCAA singles champion with the Cardinal and earned wild-card entry into the season's final Grand Slam the past two years by way of those collegiate titles.

Should Gibbs remain in Kentucky this weekend, the Bank of the West Classic still will have plenty of talent when it gets under way Monday with sessions at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Tennis fans will just have to settle for world No. 1 Serena Williams, her older sister Venus Williams, or any of the other top players in the world entered like 2014 Wimbledon champ and world No. 4-ranked Petra Kvitova.

In all, 11 of the top 20 players are in a field that rivals any before it. The Williams sisters, with four Bank of the West titles (two each) between them, are joined by defending champion and 12th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova, former champion and 10th-ranked Victoria Azarenka, 2012 Wimbledon finalist and fifth-ranked Agnieska Radwanska, No. 8 Angelique Kerber, No. 11 Ana Ivanovic, No. 14 Sara Errani, No. 16 Carla Suarez-Navarro, No. 18 Samantha Stosur and No. 20 Andrea Petkovic.

Also among the entrants are No. 28 Garbine Muguruza, No. 30 Shuai Zhang, No. 33 Sabine Lisicki, and No. 34 Daniela Hantuchova. Former world No. 1 Venus Williams is currently ranked No. 25.

Sessions are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with the quarterfinal rounds on Aug. 1 set for at noon and 8 p.m. The semifinal rounds (Saturday, Aug. 2) will be contested at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday's final (Aug. 3) is slated for 2 p.m.

Tickets are available online at www.BankOfTheWestClassic.com or by phone at 866-WTA-TIXS (866-982-8497).

Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, has entered to play in the Bank of the West Classic for the 12th time in her 20-year career. She made her professional debut at the event when it was located in Oakland.

The 34-year-old American owns 45 career WTA titles after winning at Dubai in February. She won titles at Stanford in 2000 and 2002.

Serena Williams, 17-time Grand Slam champion, won back-to-back titles here in 2011-12. Azarenka, a former world No. 1 player, won the title in 2010.

Ivanovic has won 14 WTA titles in her 11-year career, including a French Open championship in 2008, while Errani has captured seven titles. Suarez-Navarro claimed her first WTA title this year at Oeiras.

Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, returns to Stanford for the eighth time looking for her first-ever Bank of the West Classic title.

Petkovic, who reached the semifinal of the French Open, makes her debut at the Bank of the West Classic.

Gibbs, meanwhile, is working her way up the WTA ladder after a solid effort last week in Southern California.

It was a tight battle throughout in the final on Sunday with Gibbs holding a 4-2 lead in the second set, before the sole of her shoe came partially off. Admitting she started to "panic," Gibbs fell down 4-all, 40-love with Oudin serving. Gibbs then played a solid point, was aided by an untimely Oudin double fault and ultimately broke back to serve for the match.

"Tennis is like that sometime," said Gibbs, who won this event last year when it was held in Yakima, Wash. Without a spare pair of tennis shoes, Gibbs contemplated wearing running shoes, but opted for a tape job instead, which seemed to do the trick.

Oudin's first-round loss in US Open qualifying last year to Elena Baltacha ended a streak of five consecutive main-draw appearances at the US Open, which of course included her quarterfinal run there in 2009.

"It's one tournament," Oudin said of the US Open. She did not play in Sacramento the previous week but will play Lexington. "I'm not worrying about this wild card. It's the last thing on my mind. If I play well I can qualify on my own. But if I do win this wild card that's just an added bonus."

Gibbs, a resident of nearby Marina Del Rey, said she loved playing so close to home. "Just the title of the tournament, 'Carson $50,000,' " she said. "It's so exciting to be at the place I train and have my community supporting me."

Gibbs, who defeated fellow Stanford grad Kristie Ahn in the second round in Carson, faced Ahn again in Kentucky during Wednesday's opening round. Ahn won three qualifying matches for the right to play Gibbs for the second time in a week.

* * *

In conjunction with the WTA's Bank of the West Classic taking place at Stanford this weekend, former WTA player and Stanford All-American Marissa (Irvin) Gould will hold a book signing to promote her new children's book, "A Magical Racquet Ride: Journey to the Four Grand Slam Tournaments of Tennis".

The book signing will take place Saturday at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park at 1 p.m.

After competing in 22 Grand Slam events, Gould retired from professional tennis and decided to turn her attention to her other passions — children and education.

"Tennis has so much to offer young people," Gould said. "It's great exercise, accessible, and instills sportsmanship, and it can be played by teams or individuals. But, what really makes tennis special is that it is played all over the world by people of all ages."

Wanting to share the joys of tennis with a younger generation, Gould wrote the inspiring and beautifully illustrated story about two twins who take a magical ride to the four Grand Slam events of tennis.

Gould is a California native, mother of three and an elementary school teacher. During her tennis career, she notched wins over players who reached No. 1 in the world — including Justine Henin, Anastasia Myskina, Dinara Safina, and Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario. She holds a BA in Political Science from Stanford, where she was also an NCAA champion, Pac-10 champion, four-time All-American, Academic All-American, and the winner of the Honda Award for the Nation's top female collegiate athlete in her sport.

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