Lucky loser Gibbs fights off cancer to play in US Open

New York (AFP) –


Nicole Gibbs lost to reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the first round of the US Open on Tuesday, but only after winning a battle with cancer to even play.

The 26-year-old American underwent surgery in May to treat salivary gland cancer and fought back to try and qualify for the year's final Grand Slam tournament in New York.

She 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, ranked 135th in the world after a lengthy layoff, 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."

A new dentist had discovered 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 fortunately was already sitting down, otherwise I think I would have needed to sit down. Then 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."

- Hopes to inspire -

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

"Just kind of trying to figure out where tennis stood in all of it from the beginning, trying to figure out whether I should be concerned about getting back on court or just getting my health back under me, there was a balance to be struck there," she said.

"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. 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."