ATHENS, Ga. — No matter what the outcome, Monday’s NCAA singles final was going to represent another chapter in the rich and storied tradition of Stanford women’s tennis.
In a unique head-to-head matchup that lasted nearly three hours and featured several tense moments, sophomore Nicole Gibbs edged junior Mallory Burdette 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in an all-Stanford singles final on Monday afternoon at the 2012 NCAA Tennis Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Fans were treated to a mixture of incredible shot-making, pinpoint placement and lengthy, well-executed rallies, even despite the occasional ill-timed double fault. With the nation’s top-two players battling for the singles crown, the Stanford tennis program was well-represented on Monday despite the result.
Rallying back after a first-set loss and shaking off deficits of 4-1 and 5-2 in the second set, Gibbs became the 15th all-time collegiate singles champion in school history (13 NCAA, 2 AIAW). Gibbs is the first Stanford player to capture the NCAA singles crown since Amber Liu repeated as champion in 2004.
It’s the first time in NCAA men’s or women’s tennis history that teammates squared off in the singles final before later pairing up in the doubles title match. Burdette will be playing for her second consecutive NCAA doubles title after winning last year with Hilary Barte, while Gibbs will be trying to win her first.
But for at least the first part of the day, the spotlight belonged to Gibbs, who reached the semifinals of last year’s tournament with an impressive rookie campaign.
Improving to 41-5 overall on the year, Gibbs defeated three top-10 opponents during her tournament run, including No. 1 Allie Will of Florida Saturday in the semifinals. A two-time All-American from Santa Monica, Calif., Gibbs won her 17th consecutive match on Monday with her last loss coming back on April 14.
Wearing red as the lower seed, Burdette stormed to a 6-2 win in the first set and appeared to be in control with a 4-1 lead in the second. But Gibbs ripped off three consecutive games to even the set at 4-4 and actually led 6-5 before Burdette broke Gibbs for a 6-6 tie.
In the second-set tiebreaker, Gibbs raced out to a 2-0 lead before Burdette won five points in a row. Gibbs then countered with five consecutive points and closed out the tiebreaker at 7-6 (5).
After alternating holds on service games early in the third set, Gibbs owned a 3-2 advantage. Wearing white as the higher seed, Gibbs moved ahead 5-2 before Burdette held and cut the deficit to 5-3 before Gibbs eventually closed out the match.
It was the third singles title of the year for Gibbs, who also won the Pac-12 Championships crown in April and the ITA Northwest Regional Championships title (against Burdette in three sets) in October.