Nicole Gibbs and Louisa Chirico are internationally ranked tennis players who had scholarship offers from Stanford and Duke, but they also had the opportunity to turn professional out of high school.
They chose opposite paths.
Gibbs, 21, went to Stanford for three years, winning two NCAA singles titles and one in doubles. She was the 2012 Pacific-12 Conference Player of the Year and won the Honda Sports Award in 2012 and 2013 as the top female college tennis player in the country. She turned pro last year.
Chirico, 18, a recent high school graduate in the New York area, signed two months ago with the Octagon sports agency and won a $25,000 Challenger last month in Padova, Italy.
Chirico, ranked No. 250 in the world, and Gibbs, ranked a career-high No. 145, faced off Wednesday in the second round of the $50,000 FSP Gold River USTA Challenger at Gold River Racquet Club. Chirico won 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-1 and advanced to the quarterfinals, while Gibbs could do no better than a first-round win over 33-year-old Alexandra Stevenson, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1999.
The winner of the Gold River Challenger takes home $7,600 after Saturday night’s final.
During the match against Chirico, Gibbs turned to a spot in the crowd for encouragement.
“Let’s go, Nic, come on,” said her father, Paul, with a clap.
Paul Gibbs, a high school teacher, is taking a hiatus to travel with Gibbs for a year or two.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Nicole said. “It’s nice just to have someone around in moments like these when it’s a little tough.”
Gibbs’ family wants to dedicate time to her quest on the pro circuit.
“Everybody in the family feels like this is a really critical time for her, and the more support the better,” Paul Gibbs said.
Gibbs, who lives in Marina del Rey, decided to attend Stanford because she wasn’t having strong enough results playing in pro tournaments as an amateur.
“I think it was a really good decision for me to develop mentally,” she said. “It gave me a few more years to get stronger and just mentally be more prepared for how tough it is being out here.”
Gibbs said she doesn’t think it’s necessary to skip college and turn pro unless you’re an anomaly like Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic or American Victoria Duval, two young players who have had success early in their careers.
“I think this lifestyle is very hard. It’s mentally grueling, and it’s really important, at least for me, to know that I have something else if things are too tough at some point or if I’m not having the type of career that I want to. I don’t have that type of pressure that this is all I have,” said Gibbs, who majored in economics but hasn’t graduated.
“At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision; it’s a family decision,” Gibbs continued. “(Chirico) did what was best for her, and she’s obviously playing well.”
Chirico, who went to Rye (N.Y.) Country Day High School for a year and then was home-schooled, said going pro was what she always wanted to do. Her parents wanted her to first get an education but are now on board with her decision.
“There’s definitely sacrifices that you make, and I think all of the sacrifices are definitely worth it,” Chirico said.
Chirico said when her tennis career is complete, she would like to go back and get the education she initially passed on.
But first she has her sights set on someday winning a Grand Slam tournament.
“I definitely want to get an education as well – that’s pretty important to me,” she said.
Still, Chirico said she wouldn’t change the path she’s taken.
“This is my job and I’m doing what I love to do. I can’t ask for anything more,” she said.
Call The Bee’s Quinn Western, (916) 321-1031.