Orange County Breakers general manager Allen Hardison said the team surveyed its season-ticket holders in the offseason.
One of the questions asked: Who is your favorite Breaker of all-time?
Hardison said more than 50% of the respondents said the same thing. Nicole Gibbs was their favorite.
“Not last year’s [favorite], not just this year’s,” Hardison said. “All-time. That’s incredible. She’s a fighter on the court and exciting to watch. People love her. People always ask, ‘Hey, are you getting Nicole back?’ She’s great.”
Gibbs indeed enters her third season with the franchise in 2018, though she is just a substitute player for the second straight year. Fans who want to see her play for the Breakers at Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach this season have two chances — the team’s first two matches of the season.
Gibbs, from Santa Monica, will play Sunday at 5 p.m. when the team hosts the Philadelphia Freedoms, and again Monday at 6 p.m. when the Breakers entertain the Springfield Lasers.
Gibbs played one match for the Breakers last season. She really made her mark with the franchise in 2016, when she earned World Team Tennis Female MVP honors.
And she is apparently the most popular player in franchise history, perhaps surpassing longtime stalwart Ramon Delgado.
“Since I only played [one match] last year, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder,” she joked. “No, that’s so special and crazy to me. I so appreciate that from the fans.”
Regardless of how many matches she’s playing, Gibbs is happy to return to Newport Beach to compete. It will be her second time playing tennis in the city this calendar year, as she also made it to the quarterfinals of the inaugural Oracle Challenger Series event at Newport Beach Tennis Club in January.
“It’s really flattering that the team has asked me back a few years now,” she said. “I really appreciate it. It feels like a family, so it’s really exciting to be back. The management is awesome and we have a good time every year … I get extra pumped up because I’m playing at home in SoCal.”
It’s easy to see why Gibbs, currently ranked No. 113 in the world, is a fan favorite. She is feisty and competitive on the court.
“There’s no easy points when you play Nicole Gibbs,” Breakers coach Rick Leach said. “Since she played college tennis [at Stanford], she understands the team format, and I’m so happy she’s going to play for us again. She’s young and athletic, and I think she’s only going to keep getting better.”
Gibbs, 25, said she feels like she has been playing more consistent tennis this season. She said being positioned just outside of the top 100 is frustrating, but she is happy with the tennis she has been playing in Europe recently.
“I think I’m giving myself a great launching pad for hopefully having an awesome hardcourt summer,” she said. “This is always when the magic happens for me. It’s where I feel most comfortable. I’m just really excited to hit the courts at World Team Tennis to kick it off.”
Gibbs is not only a fighter on court, but off it. She is typically not afraid to express her opinion on social issues and she said she is honored to play in a league founded by Billie Jean King.