Nicole Gibbs lives in Santa Monica, but the professional tennis player also holds Newport Beach in high regard.
Gibbs returns to the Oracle Challenger Series event at Newport Beach Tennis Club for the third straight year when the tournament begins Monday. She has also played four seasons with the Newport Beach-based Orange County Breakers of World Team Tennis.
“I definitely consider it a local tournament, even though I live up in L.A.,” Gibbs said. “I spend a lot of time with my husband’s family down in Laguna Beach, so it feels like a second home for me. Obviously, having played World Team Tennis there the last couple of years as well makes it feel even more familiar. I’m very excited to get the event going and hopefully enjoy the SoCal tennis supporters.”
The Oracle Challenger Series Newport Beach event is free to the public and runs through Feb. 2 at Newport Beach Tennis Club.
Gibbs, who made the quarterfinals each of the last two years, said she hopes to again go at least that far. She is one of 35 American players scheduled to compete in either the men’s event, which is an ATP Challenger Tour event, or the women’s event, which is part of the WTA 125K Series.
Gibbs, 26, a fan favorite in Newport Beach, had an eventful 2019. The former NCAA singles and doubles champion at Stanford missed a few months on the tour after salivary gland cancer was discovered. Then, in the fall, she got married, which allowed her some additional perspective.
“I feel like I’ve been playing better tennis putting less eggs in that basket, so to speak, at least mentally,” said Gibbs, ranked No. 124 in the world. “Even while I’m still training really hard, I think balance has increasingly become really important to me and something that I keep in mind.”
Other notable American women scheduled to compete at Newport Beach include two-time Grand Slam semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe and Taylor Townsend, the highest-ranked player in the women’s draw at No. 79.
Last year’s Newport Beach finalist, Jessica Pegula, also will compete against a talented field that includes Canadian former world No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard, former British No. 1 Heather Watson and former French Open finalist Sara Errani of Italy.
On the men’s side, Thousand Oaks native Marcos Giron is hoping for a deep run. Giron, a former NCAA singles champion at UCLA who is ranked No. 107 in the world, last week made the main draw of the Australian Open for the first time. He lost in the first round to Phillip Kohlschreiber of Germany, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2.
“It didn’t go quite as well as I would have hoped, but it was still a very good experience going and playing at Melbourne Arena, the third-biggest stadium in Australia,” said Giron, 26. “Losing to Kohlschreiber was tough, but he played fantastic. I’m looking forward to being able to come back home at Newport and hopefully get some momentum and move up in the rankings.”
Former Orange High and USC standout Steve Johnson, another Orange County Breakers veteran who is the world No. 84, also is scheduled to compete in Newport Beach. He will be making his Oracle Challenger Series debut.
Other top Americans scheduled to play include Tommy Paul, Bradley Klahn, Tennys Sandgren, Mackenzie McDonald and Donald Young.
Oracle Challenger Series tournament admission is free by registering online for a ticket. Parking is also free onsite, and matches start at 10 a.m. daily.
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