Monday, January 18, 2016

Qualifier Gibbs advances in Australian Open

Nicole Gibbs, playing in the U.S. Open
last September, beat Klara Koukalova
in the first round of the Australian Open.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   This year's Australian Open is looking a lot like last year's for Nicole Gibbs.
   Which isn't such a bad thing.
    The 22-year-old former Stanford All-American reached the second round in Melbourne for the second straight year on Sunday (PST), beating 33-year-old Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 2-6, 6-1. 
   And for the second straight year, Gibbs will face a low seed in the second round. After losing to No. 26 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) in 2015, Gibbs will play No. 28 Kristina Mladenovic of France for the first time on Tuesday. 
   The big difference is that Gibbs qualified this year with a ranking of No. 105 after gaining direct entry last year at No. 96. 
   Mladenovic, also 22, dispatched Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open runner-up to since-retired Li Na, 6-3, 6-4.
   Gibbs, only 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), didn't have to worry about being overpowered by the 5-5 (1.66-meter) Koukalova. Not so against rising star Mladenovic, who stands 6 feet (1.84 meters).
   Mladenovic, ranked 30th in singles, already has built an impressive resume in all three events. She reached the U.S. Open singles quarterfinals last September and the 2014 Wimbledon doubles final with Timea Babos of Hungary. Mladenovic also won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 2013 and the Australian Open in 2014, both with ageless Daniel Nestor of Canada.
   Gibbs' best Grand Slam result is the third round of singles in the 2014 U.S. Open.
   Meanwhile, Sam Querrey continued to struggle. The 28-year-old San Francisco native, ranked No. 58 after climbing to a career-high No. 17 in 2011, retired while tied with Dusan Lajovic of Serbia at two sets apiece.
   Querrey won the first two sets 7-6 (5), 6-4 and dropped the next two 6-4, 6-2. The reason for his retirement was not immediately available.
    Americans Austin Krajicek and Denis Kudla -- the runners-up in last year's  Aptos and Tiburon Challengers, respectively -- won their openers.
   Japan's Nao Hibino, last summer's Stockton Challenger champion making her Grand Slam debut at 21, lost to Maria Sharapova, the fifth seed and 2008 Australian Open titlist, 6-1, 6-3.

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