Stanford grad Nicole Gibbs and Melanie Oudin survived sluggish first-set losses to advance to Sunday's singles final of the USTA Player Development Women's $50,000 Classic being played at the USTA Training Center/ West at StubHub Center in Carson.
Both players called the first game of the second set the turning point in their matches.
Defending champion and No. 2-seeded Gibbs also dropped the first set against 18-year-old New Yorker Louisa Chirico, and had a bit of a tougher time closing her out, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was the third time the two had squared off this year and each time it has gone three sets. Just last week at the Sacramento Challenger, Chirico eliminated Gibbs in the second round.
"She came out very strong and won like the first nine points of the match," said the 21-year-old Gibbs. "She was the aggressor and wasn't making any errors. It was a little bit of an intimidating start. But I started to make some more balls and force the issue with her.
"The first game of the second set I just felt more energized," Gibbs added.
The No. 4-seeded Oudin dropped the first set to unseeded American Sanaz Marand, but came back to win 10 games in a row at one point to roll, 2-6, 6-0, 6-1, over the former University of North Carolina lefthander.
"I was trying to step in and take the ball early but I just could not find my timing," said Oudin, 22, who went back out on a practice court with her coach for 20 minutes after the match. "I had never faced her before or even practiced with her. She has a really heavy forehand so I started playing her backhand in the second set.
Oudin and Gibbs have never met as pros, but Gibbs did recall the first and only time the two had played each other at the Carson International Spring Championships when they were juniors.
"I must have been 13 and she was 14, and it was right over there on that exact court," said Gibbs, pointing to Court 4, which serves as the featured court. "She just destroyed me. It was back when she was winning everything. Hopefully it will be a different result."
Gibbs said she not only looks up to Oudin because of her successful pro career, which includes a US Open quarterfinal appearance at age 17, a US Open mixed doubles title, one WTA singles title and a career-high WTA ranking of 31 back in 2010, but because of her 5-foot-6 height. "I have a ton of respect for her," Gibbs said. "She's definitely someone I've looked up to, for one reason because of her stature," Gibbs said. "A lot of people think tennis is only for tall girls and big hitters."