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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Top Seed Gibbs Survives Test; Dolehide Falls Just Short Against Third Seed at Dow Corning Tennis Classic

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Midland, MI--

Two young wild cards had impressive main draw debuts at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic Tuesday, while top seed Nicole Gibbs overcame a rough start to earn a tense three-set victory.

Although both 17-year-old Sara Daavettila and 16-year-old Courtney Dolehide ultimately fell to seeded players, neither looked in over their heads against players who competed at the Australian Open last month.

Daavettila, a junior at Williamston High School, lost 6-4, 6-2 to No. 5 seed Anna Tatishvili, who had qualified and won a round at the Australian Open before returning to compete in the Sunrise last week and Midland this week. Daavettila, a Michigan High School singles champion, never led, but she came back from two breaks down in the opening set, and she gave as good as she got in the pace department. Daavettila did have difficulty holding serve, however, managing that only twice in the match, and Tatishvili completed the 90-minute match with a blazing forehand winner.

At the same time on Stadium Court, Dolehide was mounting a comeback after losing the opening set to No. 3 seed Jovana Jaksic of Serbia. Jaksic, who lost in the first round of qualifying in Australia to Lucie Hradecka, who went on to defeat Ana Ivanovic in the main draw, was broken in the ninth game of the second set, with poor serving the primary cause. She got only a couple of first serves in during the two-deuce game, double faulted twice and made a forehand error after a fierce backhand to backhand rally to give Dolehide her first break of the match.

The 16-year-old sophomore needed to save a break point in serving out the set at 6-4, with Jaksic's forehand producing two winners to make it 30-40. As a busload of local high school students looked on, Dolehide stayed calm, hit a backhand winner to save it, a good first serve to get to set point, and a forehand winner to even the match against the 130th-ranked Serb.

The third set was well played and closely contested. Jaksic led 2-0, but Dolehide broke back immediately and both players held, often in tense deuce games, with errors infrequent and winners deciding most points, until Dolehide served at 4-5 in the third. At 15-30, Dolehide hit a backhand long, and Jaksic seized on that mistake, hitting a huge forehand to force an error and give herself two match points. She only needed one, cracking another big forehand to end the two-hour contest.

"Today I hit a little too many backhands down the line into the net," said Dolehide, who lost to Daavettila in the semifinals of the wild card tournament last month, but received a wild card from the USTA late last month. "I should have gone back cross court with a few of those. But my forehand was very good today.  I also thought I could make more first serves.  But I was right there, and she's a very good player."

Top seed Nicole Gibbs had beaten her first round opponent Mayo Hibi twice, both times in straight sets and outdoors.  Hibi has a game well suited to the fast hard courts in Midland however, with her willingness to volley adding an extra dimension to this first round encounter. Gibbs came through 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, but needed to play her best to do it.

Hibi played extremely well in the opening set, while Gibbs couldn't match Hibi's aggressive play.

"She definitely took it to me in the first set," said Gibbs, who reached the second round of the Australian Open last month. "I made a point of trying to dictate more points going into the second and third. For sure I wasn't feeling it in the first set. I had hit a return weird in my warmup today, so my wrist was bothering me going on to the court, so I was a little tentative in the first set. But it actually felt great the whole match and I gained more and more confidence as the match went deeper."

Hibi began to make more errors, while Gibbs eliminated them, giving the two-time NCAA champion a quick second set. And when Gibbs held and went up 15-40 in Hibi's first service game of the third set, it looked as if her confidence would carry her through.  But Hibi saved both break points, and held easily the rest of the set, until she was serving at 4-5.

Gibbs played some outstanding defense to win the first point and hit a good return to make it 0-30, but two errors by Gibbs got Hibi back in the game. On the next point, Hibi came in to take a floater out of the air, but she hit her volley right back to Gibbs, who sent a forehand whizzing by Hibi for a match point. After a short rally, Gibbs hit a forehand down the line that got Hibi off the court, then put away a forehand volley to take the match.

"I definitely felt good when I was up 0-30, but not so good when it came back to 30-all on a couple of my errors," said Gibbs. "So I just tried to keep swinging and eventually got the game."

Gibbs will play 17-year-old Naomi Osaka in the second round in Thursday's evening feature match.

Other winners today included Sachia Vickery, who defeated qualifier Alexandra Stevenson 7-6(8), 6-3, Bernada Pera, who beat Sanaz Marand 6-4, 6-4 and qualifier Naomi Cavaday of Great Britain, who blasted her way past wild card Lauren Embree 6-1, 6-0, and will face No. 8 seed Louisa Chirico next.

Former WTA Top 10 player Nicole Vaidisova, who qualified Tuesday, won her first round match against Nao Hibino of Japan 7-6(3), 7-5 Wednesday night.

Thursday's schedule and Wednesday's results are available at the tournament website.

Live streaming of stadium court matches is available here.