Nicole Gibbs will be seeking to replicate her performance in Indian Wells by reaching the last 16 of the Miami Open when she takes on the number four seed, Garbiñe Muguruza on Sunday.
Gibbs is having a wonderful year; already at a career high ranking of 74, the 23-year-old American will improve on that again in the post-Miami rankings by virtue of a third round showing (at least) in Miami. Gibbs is already at 19 match wins for 2016. The most impressive stat of her year is that she was in qualifying at four tournaments and successfully reached the main draw at all of them. At Indian Wells, she won five matches including a straight sets win over the number 23 seed, Madison Keys in the second round.
In the first round of Miami, Gibbs defeated Yulia Putintseva, 6-4 6-2. The match was much closer than the scoreline suggested but Gibbs was mentally tougher in the crucial moments, winning all seven games that went to deuce. Gibbs backed up that win, again losing just six games, in a 6-2 6-4 second round victory over Mladenovic. Gibbs’s greatest weapon right now is her mentality; the serve is solid and groundstrokes are reliable, but the one thing that stands out is her mental focus on court and terrific attitude, currently spearheaded by a wave of confidence.
In her match against Mladenovic, Gibbs didn’t drop serve once throughout the 79 minute contest, facing just one break point. And that break point save was a stunner… Gibbs showed remarkable defence on the forehand side before getting back into the point with a defensive lob and finishing it off with a crushing forehand winner. Gibbs defended exceptionally well throughout the entire match, consistently getting one more ball back into play and forcing Mladenovic into errors… and she made A LOT of them. On a sidenote, Mladenovic is 4-9 for the year in singles and on a four match losing streak.
Muguruza enjoyed arguably her best win of the year, taking down the most dangerous of all the unseeded players, Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of Miami, 6-7(3) 6-3 7-5. It was by no means Muguruza’s most impressive performance but what did stand out was her fight, which she mentioned in her post-match interview, and was evidently lacking in a straight sets loss to Christina McHale in Indian Wells.
The first set of Muguruza-Cibulkova was too close to call; there was no rhythm with both players crunching away anything short, particularly on the second serve return. Muguruza served for the first set at *6-5 but was unconvincing in her attempts to close it out. Cibulkova stepped up her level in the tiebreak, crucially winning two points on the tiebreak at 4-3 with decent serving before claiming the set.
It would have been easy for Muguruza to roll over for another defeat but the Spaniard didn’t go away and won the second set, taking advantage of a slack Cibulkova service game up 3-2. Cibulkova went off for a comfort break and came back revitalised, exerting pressure from the baseline and going up 3-0… but that was never going to be the end of it! Muguruza won three games on the trot to level up. Cibulkova began to show signs of wobbling but with the advantage of serving first, had a crucial hold to lead 5-4 with a pair of brilliant points from 30-30.
Cibulkova eeked out a *0-30 opening on the Muguruza serve in the next game but let her opponent off the hook, going long on a second serve return at 30-30. Muguruza held and then made her move at 5-5, hitting two massive returns; the first setting up a monstrous forehand winner and the second, an outright winner. Muguruza served out the match to 15 with some superb serving, notably a second serve down the tee that scraped the line.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match, Gibbs benefitted from a retirement by Muguruza, leading 6-2 1-0 in New Haven qualifying, all the way back in 2012.
Analysis: This should be a very intriguing match… Gibbs will draw on the bank of confidence from her win over a big hitter like Mladenovic. However, it’s unlikely that Muguruza will commit so many unforced errors. The Spaniard will also be much more dangerous on return, particularly if she keeps up what she did against Cibulkova, battering away the Slovak’s second serve. Gibbs must serve well in this one to stand a chance. Against Kvitova in Indian Wells, Gibbs was damning of her serve and how it let her down in the third set.
Muguruza’s mental application will also be a factor, particularly if she gets bogged down by Gibbs’s defence. I’m actually very tempted to go for Gibbs in this match and I think she has a real shot. I’m probably leaning slightly more towards Muguruza though because of her likely ability to make inroads on the Gibbs serve.
Looking forward to this match though!