Thursday, July 19, 2018

Gibbs doing 'awesome' in battle vs. depression

No. 2 seed Nicole Gibbs beat Jovana Jaksic of Serbia 6-2, 6-4 on
Wednesday in the first round of the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club
Challenge. Gibbs starred at Stanford, and Jaksic lives in Sacra-
mento. Photo by Paul Bauman
   BERKELEY, Calif. -- Nicole Gibbs just wants to be average.
   Off the court, that is.
   And Gibbs, who went public in January with her battle against depression in an effort to help others, is succeeding.
    "I'm actually doing awesome," the second-seeded Gibbs said after beating Jovana Jaksic 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday in the first round of the inaugural $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge. "I got off my meds not too long ago, and I'm feeling pretty normal, like kind of your average person, which is a good thing for me. I'm definitely turning in the right direction, I have an awesome support team around me, and I haven't had any problems lately."
   Gibbs is far from the only professional player to struggle with depression. Andre Agassi, Pat Cash, Cliff Richey, Mardy Fish, Victoria Azarenka, Ashleigh Barty and Rebecca Marino also have dealt with mental health issues.
   "I think people susceptible to depression are just wired a little differently," said Gibbs, who first exhibited symptoms in high school. "The same challenges that might be frustrating in a normally wired person's life become these bigger things in the life of a person susceptible to depression. That being said, there's always something you can do. For me, that's mindfulness and just being really dedicated to managing my meds."
   But pro tennis exacerbates the problem. Ranked a career-high No. 68 two years ago, Gibbs has dropped to No. 116.
   "When you're not inside the top 50, tennis is a constant identity crisis," Gibbs, a petite 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters) in an age of power, told the Telegraph of Great Britain in January. "You ask yourself questions all the time. What can I be doing to do better? Am I doing everything I can? How do I get to that next level where I really want to be? There were times when the up-and-down elements of tennis made things almost unbearable for me."
Jovana Jaksic said her biggest problem against Nicole
Gibbs was, "Me, myself and I." Photo by Paul Bauman
   Gibbs concedes that dealing with depression while playing pro tennis "is a huge challenge, but I'm also really grateful for it because it's forced me to confront this stuff earlier in life than I would have necessarily otherwise."
   Gibbs, a 25-year-old resident of Venice in the Los Angeles area, and Jaksic, a 24-year-old Serb, are both emotional players with strong Northern California ties.
   Gibbs played at Stanford, winning two NCAA titles in singles (2012 and 2013) and one in doubles (2012) before turning pro one year early. She met her fiance, Jack Brody, there.
   Jaksic moved from Las Vegas to Sacramento in December 2016. Her Serbian boyfriend, Vuja Jovic, is a real estate broker in Sacramento.
   Gibbs rallied from second-set deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 at the Berkeley Tennis Club, founded in 1906. Past members include International Tennis Hall of Famers Don Budge, Helen Wills Moody, Helen Jacobs and Hazel Wightman. Plaques honoring Budge and Willls Moody adorn the clubhouse.
   "I'm happy with the way I competed," said Gibbs, who extended then-No. 1 Karolina Pliskova to 6-4 in the third set in the second round of the U.S. Open last September. "I played a pretty solid first set, then she raised her level, and I got a little unlucky. I think I had ad points in all three of the first games of the second set and ended up down 0-3. That's always a little bit of a mental challenge when you feel like you've done all the work to be on the right side of the momentum, and then the opponent takes it away from you. I really had to battle to even things up and then take the set.
   "I view it as the perfect first round. I definitely did some good things, there are a lot of things I can do a lot better in the next round, and I got challenged."
   When the 322nd-ranked Jaksic was asked what gave her the most trouble, she cracked, "Me, myself and I. That's always the biggest opponent I have -- I mean everyone has -- being comfortable with myself on the court, which I'm clearly not. I started to a little bit in the second set, but it's still not where I want to be.
   "She's definitely a good player. I had a tough draw. It's tough to play a former top-100 player in the first round. It is what it is; I have to accept it."
Modesto product Maria Sanchez will face Nicole Gibbs
in a showdown of former Pacific-12 Conference standouts.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   The 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Jaksic almost climbed into the top 100 at No. 102 in May 2014, shortly after reaching the final in Monterrey, Mexico. She lost to countrywoman and former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the WTA tournament.
   What has happened since then? You name it.
   "Injuries, I moved to the States, I had training problems, coaching problems ... injury problems the most because a back injury kept coming back for four years and is still present," said Jaksic, adding that she has four herniated discs because one of her former coaches had her do too much weight training. "It's always tough getting through an injury, not only physically but mentally. I lost confidence."
   Jaksic said Novak Djokovic, who won his first Grand Slam title in more than two years on Sunday at Wimbledon, is "a good friend of mine." Both were born in Belgrade (as was Ivanovic).
   "I've known him since a young age," Jaksic continued. "Our parents knew each other since before I was born. I'm really, really proud of him for winning Wimbledon. I believed in him, even though most people didn't. It really means a lot to him.
   "You could see the way he behaved ever since he was young how extremely motivated he was and how much he worked, so it was really inspiring for everyone. Players should learn from his example."
   Gibbs will face Maria Sanchez, a 28-year-old Modesto product, in a Pacific-12 Conference showdown today at about 2 p.m. Sanchez, a former USC All-American, said she has split two matches with Gibbs, winning in college and losing in the pros. The latter match occurred five years ago.
Connie Ma, a 15-year-old qualifier from Dublin
in the San Francisco Bay Area, lost to No. 8 seed
Mayo Hibi of Japan 6-0, 6-3. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Sanchez, ranked No. 271, dominated Kimberly Birrell of Australia 6-2, 6-2.
   "I felt like I served smart and served well in important moments, so I think that helps my whole game," said Sanchez, who has won two titles in singles and 20 in doubles on the ITF (minor-league) circuit and one doubles crown on the (major-league) WTA Tour. "I was pretty solid from the baseline. I really liked it when I got forward and used my volleys. I was happy with the way I competed."
   Sanchez won't be thinking about her college days when she faces Gibbs.
   "That was a little while ago. A lot has changed since then. I just consider it another tough match in the tournament," she said.
   In another matchup of former Pac-12 players, fourth-seeded Kristie Ahn, who led Stanford to the 2013 NCAA title along with Gibbs, will meet wild card Maegan Manasse from Cal at 10 a.m.
   The only seed to fall in the first round was No. 6 Grace Min, who lost to fellow American Ashley Kratzer, a 19-year-old left-hander, 6-4, 6-4.
   Min and Kratzer advanced to Challenger finals in Sacramento in 2016 and Stockton in 2017, respectively. Shortly after Stockton last July, Kratzer won the USTA girls 18 hardcourt title to earn a wild card into the U.S. Open and lost to German veteran Tatjana Maria 6-1, 6-1 in the opening round.
   In an all-Japanese clash, No. 3 seed Nao Hibino topped former top-30 player Misaki Doi 6-4, 6-4.
   Hibino won last week's $60,000 Honolulu Challenger and the inaugural 2015 Stockton Challenger.
   Doi held a match point against Angelique Kerber in the first round of the 2106 Australian Open but lost. Kerber went on to win the first of her three Grand Slam singles titles.
   No. 8 seed Mayo Hibi of Japan routed 15-year-old qualifier Connie Ma of Dublin in the San Francisco Bay Area 6-0, 6-3.
   Hibi was born in Japan but lived in Foster City in the Bay Area as a young child and grew up in Irvine in the Los Angeles area. She won the 2013 Sacramento Challenger at age 17.
   Ma, ranked seventh nationally in the 16s at only 5-foot-3 (1.60 meters) and 95 pounds (43.1 kilograms), pronounced herself happy with her performance in the tournament.
   "I was just hoping to make it past a couple rounds of qualifying, and I did that," said Ma, who reached the quarterfinals of a $25,000 hard-court tournament in Baton Rouge, La., last month as a qualifier.
   Here are the Berkeley singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule.

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