Tennis

Beating cancer is tennis player Nicole Gibbs' greatest victory

World No. 135 loses to Wimbledon champion Halep, but gains perspective

Losing to reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep was not unexpected for world No. 135 Nicole Gibbs.

But the 26-year-old American can still take heart from her 3-6, 6-3, 2-6 defeat in the first round of the US Open yesterday morning (Singapore time). She had got there after beating a bigger opponent - cancer.

Just three months ago, Gibbs underwent surgery to treat salivary gland cancer. She then fought back to try and qualify for the year's final Grand Slam tournament in New York.

Gibbs fell in the final round of qualifying but got into the main draw as a "lucky loser" after other women dropped out, setting her up against Halep, who last month dispatched 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final.

Gibbs forced a third set with the fourth-seeded Romanian at Louis Armstrong Stadium, but settled for a moral victory of huge magnitude.

"I've always known that I'm a fighter," Gibbs said. "But to be through the journey I've been through over the past few months, to land myself on Armstrong playing against one of the best in the game, and going the distance, I think that really just reinforces it for me.

"I'm going to take a lot of inspiration from this, try to carry it forward into what's left in my year and my tennis career."

Gibbs sees tennis and life much differently now compared to last year.

"I think I do have a new perspective, that it's not life and death out there," Gibbs said.

"It's a privilege to be on a court like that against a player like that. I was just really trying to soak up the moment."

Recalling the discovery, she said a dentist had found a growth on the roof of her mouth and a biopsy showed signs of cancer, stunning news delivered over a telephone.

"I was definitely, like, shocked," she said. "I had been told not to really worry about the biopsy. They thought it was going to be benign. I was nervous about it, but I wasn't anticipating that it would be cancerous.

"I was just really disappointed that I was alone. I called my fiance right away and kind of fell apart when I called him.

"He's always such a comforting influence for me, but he was definitely pretty scared, too, at that moment."

After the operation, Gibbs had to figure out where tennis stood in her life during tense weeks in her cancer fight.

"It took me a little while to figure out, OK, I need to take care of myself as a person first, then as an athlete, she said. "That was one of the biggest challenges for me.

"I just hope that there's someone who's going through a tough time that can take inspiration from my journey, feel like maybe they can turn it into something really positive the way I hope I have." - AFP

US OPEN FIRST-ROUND SELECTED RESULTS

MEN'S SINGLES:

  • Rafael Nadal (x2) bt John Millman 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
  • Thomas Fabbiano bt Dominic Thiem (x4) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
  • Nick Kyrgios bt Steve Johnson 6-3, 7-6(7/1), 6-4
  • Alexander Zverev (x6) bt Radu Albot 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2

WOMEN'S SINGLES:

  • Aryna Sabalenka (x9) bt Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
  • Caroline Wozniacki (x19) bt Wang Yafan 1-6, 7-5, 6-3
  • Anna Kalinskaya bt Sloane Stephens (x11) 6-3, 6-4
  • Alison Riske bt Garbine Muguruza (x24) 2-6, 6-1, 6-3
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