Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Desert debacles: Gibbs, Bellis, Novikov collapse

Nicole Gibbs lost in the first round at Indian Wells today after reaching
the fourth round as a qualifier last year. 2016 photo by Mal Taam
   Nicole Gibbs, CiCi Bellis and Dennis Novikov -- all of whom have strong Northern California ties -- lost today in the BNP Paribas Open in remarkably similar fashion.
   All won their opening set 6-4 and collapsed in the third set at Indian Wells.
   Gibbs, a former Stanford star, and Bellis, a 17-year-old San Francisco Bay Area product, each dropped the last four games in consecutive first-round matches at 16,100-seat Stadium 1, the second-largest tennis facility in the world after 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. Tennis Channel televised both contests in the virtually empty arena.
   Novikov, a Bay Area resident, played on an outside court in the second (final) round of qualifying and was blanked in the third set.  
   Gibbs, a wild card, lost to Heather Watson of Great Britain 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in a matchup of 24-year-old friends.
CiCi Bellis, shown in last year's U.S. Open, made her BNP
Paribas Open debut and fell to veteran Kirsten Flipkens
in the opening round. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Afterward, Gibbs tweeted: "Happy #internationalwomensday (female symbol emoji) ladies! Tough match 4 me today but we women are resilient! 4 any of u feeling (down arrow emoji) remember-we WILL bounce back (flexed muscle emoji)."
   Watson had not won a WTA main draw match this year. At Wimbledon in 2015, she twice came within two points of shocking Serena Williams in the third round. Watson also won last year's Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Henri Kontinen of Finland.
   Gibbs, who reached the fourth round at Indian Wells as a qualifier last year, will tumble from No. 94 in the world to approximately No. 113. She has more ranking points to defend later this month in Miami, where she advanced to the third round last year.
   Bellis, making her BNP Paribas Open debut, fell to 31-year-old Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Bellis, by far the youngest player in the top 100 at No. 55, led 3-0 (one service break) in the third set but eventually was doomed by repeated forehand errors.
   Bellis was coming off a quarterfinal showing in Dubai, where she stunned No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska for the first top-10 victory of her career.
   Gibbs won four NCAA titles -- two singles, one doubles and one team -- in her three years at Stanford (2011-13). Bellis grew up a five-minute drive from Stanford in Atherton and planned to enroll at the prestigious university before deciding to turn pro last September.
   Novikov, a 23-year-old Milpitas resident, lost to 16th-seeded Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
   Novikov was seeking his second berth in the Indian Wells main draw. He qualified in 2015 and lost to former top-10 player Jurgen Melzer of Austria in the opening round.

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