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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 26, 2013

Burdette and Gibbs learning pro game

Former Stanford All-Americans adjusting to the new challenges and opportunities

by Rick Eymer

Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs are the latest in a long line of Stanford women tennis players who helped the Cardinal win a national title and then turned their attentions to the professional game.

They were back at Stanford this week, each participating in their second Bank of the West Classic on the familiar courts of Taube Family Tennis Center.

Burdette, who provided the clinching point in Stanford's 2010 NCAA title, won a pair of NCAA doubles titles, one with Gibbs and another with Hilary Barte.

Gibbs also won a pair of NCAA singles titles. She beat Burdette in three sets for the 2012 title. They turned pro within seven months of each other, each passing up their senior season.

Cardinal coach Lele Forood said she thought Burdette's game was suited for the pro circuit. Burdette certainly showed that playing on the pro circuit as an amateur last fall and succeeding at every stop.

Burdette went from college All-American to professional tennis player, literally, overnight. After reaching the third round of the U.S. Open, she clearly showed a potentially successful career.

She reached a career-high ranking of 68 in June, nine months into her professional career.

"This was the first time I was defending points," Burdette said after losing to Italian Francesca Schiavone, 7-5, 6-3, in the first round on Monday. "That made it easy for my ranking to go up so fast."

Burdette also had to play a lot of tough tournaments along the way and showed she belongs on tour. The Bank of the West was her 14th tournament of the year, 13 have been on the WTA Tour. She's played 18 of her 24 career tournaments at the higher level.

Burdette won two of the first three ITF tournaments she played and has also appeared at the French Open (she won her first-round match) and Wimbledon.

She went from winning $700 at an event in Memphis in February to earning $26,000 at Indian Wells in March, where she qualified and then reached the third round.

Burdette continued to play well at Miami, Charleston, Rome and Brussels heading into the French Open. Rating points and prize money continued to pile up. She's earned over $150,000 this season.

She might not have gotten a lot of sleep while in Brussels. She had the Stanford women's tennis team on her mind.

"I think my neighbors in the hotel thought I was crazy," she said. "I was waking up in the middle of the night and screaming at my computer. It was definitely a lot of fun to see them make that great run and take the title. I was so proud of them."

Burdette, ranked 76th, was playing for the first time this week since losing in the first round of Wimbledon.

"That was a tough one," Burdette said after losing to Schiavone. "I played a great champion but overall I did some things well. I've taken some steps forward the last few weeks after taking time off."

Burdette is one of 11 Americans ranked among the top 100, peaking at 68 the week of June 24. She does have three wins over the top 50 this season, including then No. 27 Tamira Paszek of Austria at Indian Wells.

"The Americans try to stay close," Burdette said. "I can say I've met some great friends. I've learned a lot this year. Coming to tournaments for the first time, I think I won the award for asking the most questions."

Burdette was coached by older sister, Lindsay, during the tournament. Mallory does not have an official traveling coach.

"She told me I looked like I belonged out there," Burdette said. "I'm happy with the way I handled myself at times, even I was frustrated."

The eldest sister, Erin, was also in attendance. All three were All-Americans at Stanford.

Gibbs, who turned pro moments after winning both the NCAA team and singles titles in May, won her second straight first-round match at the Bank of the West, beating Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, 6-4, 6-1.

Gibbs, who entered the tournament ranked 191st in the world, knocked off her highest-rated opponent in the 67th-ranked Bertens.

Gibbs, who faced No. 4 seed Jamie Hampton on Thursday, recorded a mark of 56-5 in college matches played at Stanford.

"Each week has its own challenges and opportunities," Gibbs said. "I want to put myself in position to win each week."

Gibbs made her professional debut at Wimbledon, the most storied of any tournament. She lost in qualifying but gained in experience.

The next time she entered a tournament, Gibbs took no prisoners, winning the title at Yakima and earning $7,600. More important, her ranking points started adding up. She went from 205 to 191 in two weeks.

"That was huge for my confidence," Gibbs said. "It's a different animal on the tour and I had some doubts in my mind. A poor performance would have been tough."

She reached the quarterfinals in another $50,000 ITF Circuit stop at Portland last week and her first- round victory at Stanford was just as important.

"I try to place expectations on myself without placing pressure on myself," she said. "I knew I had done everything there was to do in college tennis. This is a natural transition for me."

Last year, Gibbs played Serena Williams in the second round. This year?

"I'm looking forward to not playing Williams in the next round," Gibbs said. "But Hampton is having an unbelievable year."

The Bank of the West Classic wraps up this weekend with quarterfinals on Friday, semifinals o Saturday and the singles finale Sunday at 2 p.m.