Stanford women’s tennis will see its fair share of action during the following week in the 2016 Bank of the West Classic at Taube Family Tennis Stadium, headlined by newly turned professional athlete Carol Zhao facing off against Stanford alum and current world No. 71 Nicole Gibbs in the first round.
The main draw tournament runs from July 18-24, with the battle of the Stanford athletes getting underway on Monday at 7 p.m. Zhao, ranked No. 346 in the world, earned a wildcard into the main draw, while Gibbs was one of the 20 professional players selected for the tournament field based on ranking. The winner of their match will advance to face the 4th-seeded Coco VandeWeghe, ranked No. 35 in the world, on Thursday at 7 p.m.
However, the Stanford duo will not be separated for long as they also compete in the doubles draw, this time as a team. Zhao and Gibbs will face off against Arina Rodionova from Australia and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.
Zhao has played in this tournament for the past two years, falling in the first round last year to world No. 57 Mona Barthel. Gibbs reached the second round of last year’s tournament before losing to world No. 20 Elina Svitolina.
Zhao decided last month to forgo her senior year at Stanford in order to pursue her professional career. Playing at the team’s No. 1 spot for the past two years, Zhao has seen incredible success in a Cardinal uniform. The 2015 NCAA Singles runner-up accumulated a career 76-16 record and was a three-time all-conference pick. Zhao was instrumental in Stanford’s 2016 NCAA championship run despite missing much of the season competing in tournaments and training with the Canadian national Fed Cup team. After the Cardinal started their season 6-3, Zhao’s return to the lineup prompted Stanford to win 16 of its last 19 matches, with the team ultimately capturing its 19th national championship.
Gibbs, who has been competing professionally since leaving Stanford after her junior season, finished her successful college career with 111-15 overall record. An All-American in singles during each of her three seasons at Stanford, she was a two-time NCAA champion (2012, 2013) and a two-time NCAA singles champion as well.
Both Zhao and Gibbs remained busy in the weeks prior to the tournament. Zhao recently competed at the $25K Winnipeg National Bank Challenger in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Coming off a loss in the Round of 128 at Wimbledon, Gibbs played in the Stockton Challenger, a $50K USTA Pro Circuit tournament held at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.
The Stanford ties continued as returning sophomores Melissa Lord and Caroline Lampl received wildcards into the tournament’s qualifying draw. On Saturday, Lord dropped a 6-2, 6-3 decision to Olga Govortsova. Lampl also fell in the first round to Asia Muhammad, 6-1, 6-0.
Playing a prominent role down the stretch this season, Lord won 10 of her last 11 matches, posting a 25-12 overall record, including 16-7 in dual matches. Lampl also enjoyed a tremendous rookie season as she led the Cardinal in overall victories (30-5), including 13 of her 14 matches at the No. 5 spot in the lineup.
Local top-ranked junior Catherine ‘Cici’ Bellis has also accepted a wildcard into the main draw of the tournament. After winning the USTA Girls 18’s National Championships, the 17-year-old from Atherton rose to national fame in 2014 after knocking off world No. 13 Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the US Open at the age of just 15.
The playing field also includes some of the top names in women’s tennis, including world No. 7 Venus Williams and No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova. Americans Coco VandeWeghe and Varvara Lepchenko are seeded in the tournament as well.
The Bank of the West Classic is the longest-running women-only professional tennis tournament in the world and is the first stop of the Emirates Airlines US Open Series. Tickets and more information can be found at www.bankofthewestclassic.com.
Contact Benjamin Chen at thebenchen10 ‘at’ gmail.com.