Nicole Gibbs is a rising American star on the WTA Tour. The former Stanford University star, Gibbs became just the third player in NCAA Division I women’s tennis history to win the NCAA singles and doubles national titles in the same season.
Recently, Gibbs sat down with Jonathan Kelley (author of the popular On The Rise (a tennis blog) site) to discuss her professional career, along with a look back at her collegiate playing days, in this week’s version of ITA On-Serve.
Question: What's one thing from college tennis you would import to the pros?
Answer: We had a WTA meeting as recently as Cincinnati. A lot of younger players were there, and they wanted to adopt rules that would make matches rowdier than some older players would like. Let's get people involved. It's not really about us, it's about the fan experience. College tennis does a good job of prioritizing the fans.
World Team Tennis has some good things as well. I like having a shot clock in-between points. So many players abuse the clock between points. I guess I would be advantaged in that case, since I play fast. But players can easily adapt.
Similarly, the 5- and sometimes 8-minute warm-up needs to be heavily enforced for 5 minutes or even shortened to 3 minutes, like in college tennis. There's too much turn-over between matches.
Q: Have you considered trying to be part of WTA leadership?
A: I haven't been on tour long, but maybe in the next couple of years I would start thinking about that for sure. I think I'd have a unique perspective: I joined the tour later, I would be more open to some of the changes I've been talking about. I was an Economics major at Stanford, I have a more business approach to the product of tennis. So I'd be inclined to protect the player experience but also feel like I could bring an objective business mindset.
Q: What's one thing from the pros you would import to college tennis?
A: I would import the emphasis on marketing that the WTA employs. At least during my college experience, there was not much in the way of advertising or promoting tennis. I know that budgets are a limiting factor, but there are ways to promote the sport even around campus that would enhance the experience for players and fans alike.
Q: What's the No. 1 thing you do to battle isolation on the road?
A: I've been traveling with my dad a lot. He stopped working as an English teacher to help me out – he now comes to tournaments to support me. Also, I pay close attention to how I schedule myself, so that I'm not neglecting myself as a person. I'm not inclined to play 8 weeks in a row in Europe without going home; even between the French Open & Wimbledon, I will go home for at least 5 days, and connect with my friends at home.
Q: What's your strategy for handling the social media haters?
A: I try to view it with humor, if not outright ignore them. It bothered me more at first – it was so much less prevalent at college, but then again I had many fewer followers. Now with 10,000 Twitter followers, I do have some angry fans after I lose a match. But for me, the majority of messages are overwhelmingly positive. I get a lot of support after a loss: "Doesn't matter, see you in Indian Wells." The more positive of a presence you are on social media, the more positive a response you'll get even when things aren't going well.
Q: Why do you think women's college tennis doesn't have the same high profile of men’s? What if anything should women's college tennis folks do to change that?
A: I think part of that is you've had a significant number of stars come out of college environments on the men's side – top players, who stay on top for a while. For the women, there's been Lisa Raymond, who is more known for doubles, Laura Granville … but it's not someone who's a perennial Top 20 in the world. That creates a little bit of the lack of interest. Go to a junior tournament, if CiCi Bellis is in the draw, you have a big crowd. It's the same idea for college tennis, if there are exciting players on court, there will be more interest.
Q: Do you think there should be more opportunities to play on clay in college?
A: I think there's an opportunity for that maybe in the fall. Instead of doing the All-American on hard since there's nothing after that, maybe something on clay. In the spring, you want to keep it consistent for the players, to get them ready for the NCAA tournament.
Q: Your mom said that if she could have given you one thing in tennis, it would have been six more inches in height. Do you sometimes wish you were taller?
A: It crosses your mind when you're getting aced 18 times in two sets that there should be height classes in tennis like weight classes in boxing. [Laughs.] But every advantage comes with a disadvantage. Maybe if I player that same player on clay sometime this year, I can get her, and won't need those six inches to win.
Q: Do you have any short tennis idols?
A: [Laughs] No - actually, my idol is (Maria) Sharapova. I like her mental and emotional composure on court.
Q: Why don't you grunt more?
A: It's actually a good thing for me when I am grunting more! You'll see sometimes, from the beginning of tournament to the end there's a shift. Early in the tournament, maybe I'm playing looser and less stressed so I'm making noise when I hit and I'm relaxed. Then when the pressure mounts in the later rounds, I tend to stop grunting as much and hold my breath more. It's something for me to keep in mind out there!
Q: You're big into yoga. What about it do you like?
A: I think it's a really good way to center yourself and improve fitness. I get impatient with meditation and more passive mental training. Yoga is a great way to push your body to the limit while practicing serenity and balance.