Nicole Gibbs Q & A: “There is no life in which I’m not an athlete”

Nicole Gibbs after her first round win over Tatjana Maria in Charlottesville.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (April 25, 2013) – This week at the Boyd Tinsley Women’s Clay Court Classic at the picturesque Boar’s Head club in Charlottesville, VA, 20-year-old Nicole Gibbs continues her good form, reaching the third round of the USTA Har-Tru event after taking out world No. 109 Tatjana Maria in her opener and former UNC player Sanaz Marand in the second round.

Currently a junior at Stanford University majoring in Economics and thus not yet able to travel full-time on the Tour, Gibbs has quickly learned to balance her school commitments and international tennis travel schedule. She recently competed on two of tennis’ biggest stages at the US Open and Australian Open among others, and has climbed to a career-high ranking of 185 earlier this month.

The Ohio native moved to the Los Angeles area with her family at the age of fourteen, and has always “dreamed of going to Stanford,” even jokingly calling herself a “nerd.” A tough and fierce competitor on court with her 5 ft.6 in. (1.68m) frame, she is thoughtful, kind-hearted, grounded and funny in person.

Gibbs is set to finish up her collegiate career next month and will then plan to turn pro in time to debut at the Wimbledon Championships in June. Normally, players at lower-tiered events like these are not required to do media interviews, but Gibbs was ready and willing, and was quite a charming interview! Get to know the bubbly American as she talks about the Williams sisters, her decision to turn pro, and the three people she would most want to have dinner with!

How would you describe your personality?
(Laughs) That’s so broad; I have no idea! I mean, I’m kind of a nerd — everyone at school can attest to that. I’ve always really dreamed of going to Stanford, and I’m majoring in Economics there and working hard. (Laughs) Beyond that … it depends on the situation: with my friends, I’m the most outgoing, but I also have trouble talking in public, doing interviews and meeting new people sometimes.

What is your greatest strength?
I think my fight has always been my biggest asset on court. I never really back down, and I pride myself on being really tough on the key points.

What is your biggest weakness?
My size. I can’t hit quite as big of a ball as a lot of the girls out there. I feel that I have to work a little harder per point than the average girl. I just don’t have a lot of power.

What helped you make the choice to go pro after this college season?
I just felt – with the exception of a team title which I’m chasing with my team this year – that I’ve maxed my potential in the college game having a great run individually last year (winning the NCAA singles and doubles titles), and have used my teammates and my coaches to their full potential in those few years. I think it’s really just time for me to (turn pro) and grow my game further. I’ve had some pretty reasonable success on the pro tour already, so I’m really excited to get out there (full-time).

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you want to be? Would you have looked to use your college degree?
I would have to be an athlete. There is no life in which I’m not an athlete. I really liked soccer growing up, so I could see myself playing soccer – I maybe would have been built better for that sport. I definitely have to be out there competing, so I would be playing some sport even if it weren’t tennis.

When did you start playing tennis?
Pretty much as soon as I could hold a racquet, my dad had me hitting in the driveway over two trashcans with a board across. He was really into it. (Laughs)

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I’m currently learning to surf. That was on the agenda of things I wanted to learn, and that’s the one that is the most important to me. I always really wanted to surf but I didn’t buy boards until just this last summer. So I’ve been working hard at it.

Hopefully no surfing scars or accidents yet?
Not yet, but I did get hit in the face with my board once and thought I broke my nose; blood was gushing everywhere! It ended up being a minor incident and something I could laugh about.

If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?
Venus Williams. She is awesome, the sweetest girl out there. There are so many, but she is the first person that comes to mind because she is an idol for me. I got to practice with her a little bit a couple of summers ago, and have really always looked up to her.

And then, honestly, there are so many girls that I don’t think I could even choose (the other two) between them all because I’m here week in and week out on tour, and I have a lot of friends here.

What is one thing that scares you?
Going pro. (Laughs) Even though it’s the most exciting thing that’s happening for me right now, I’m also really nervous about the transition.

What are two things you couldn’t live without?
(Pauses, thinking) Tennis. (Laughs) And my friends, my boyfriend, and my family are all very important to me.

If you were in a Rock ‘N Roll band, what would your job be?
I would have to be lead singer! (Laughs) I’m a little bit of a diva sometimes.

Do you sing or karaoke?
No, not at all! I’m learning to play guitar though. So maybe I could be the guitar player too.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?
Well, I actually did play her (last year at the Bank of the West Classic): Serena Williams. I think she is indisputably the best player to ever play the women’s game. I was very very very lucky to get to be on the court with her last summer, so that was a really special experience for me.

If you can pick anybody as a mentor, who would it be?
Ohmygosh. I think I’ve had some great mentors in my past actually. Obviously, Lele Forood, my current tennis coach at Stanford is a legend in her own rite; played a lot on tour and was a great player. I’ve had the fortune to be on the court with Ray Ruffels, an Australian who was a very successful Davis Cup player, I’ve had Tom Gullikson as my coach. So, I have already been very blessed to have very noteworthy mentors and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
I’m so terrible at these questions – so many people to choose from! (Pauses) I would love to meet President Obama as I have a lot of respect and admiration for him. Also Roger Federer because I’m obsessed with him. And then … Oh! Adam Levine from Maroon 5 – again, also obsessed with him but in a different way! I love him, he’s really great. Maroon 5 has always been my favorite band.

Interested in more Nicole Gibbs wisdom and fun? Give her a follow on Twitter at @Gibbsyyyy!