2018 is proving to be a fruitful year for British players breaking through the rankings. As Kyle Edmund continues his surge up inside the top 20, the women’s game has seen a number of talented young Brits break new ground inside the top 200. But, there’s one player who has been on a terrific run that has perhaps gone unnoticed.
Olivia Nicholls has so far reached five finals on the ITF circuit, winning four tournaments in a fantastic spell. And with media focus on Gabi Taylor, who has had similar achievements in the singles, Olivia’s results have been shouted about considerably less. That might be because the 23 year-old has found her success in the doubles, which rarely grabs headlines.
In this article, we catch up with Olivia to find out what has inspired this run of form and whether she sees her future as a doubles specialist.
16 successive wins, 4 titles
Back in March, Olivia entered a $15k event in Ramat Hasharon, Israel. After falling in the second round after qualifying in the singles, Nicholls partnered up with Alicia Barnett in the doubles event. After dismantling 4th seeds Madeleine Kobelt and Linnea Malmqvist in the opening round, the British pair would go on to win the title without dropping a set.
In the following week, the pair joined forces again, this time in Tel Aviv. After winning a tight 3rd set tie break in the opening round, Nicholls had her hands on a second title on Israeli soil after defeating the top seeds 7-6 6-3 in the final.
After Israel, Olivia then partnered up with Sarah Beth Grey in Obidos, Portugal. A step up in level to a $25k tournament didn’t halt Nicholls’ run, as the British pair claimed the trophy, impressively dismantling top seeds An-Sophie Mestach and Nina Stojanovic in the final. The pair then followed this success with another $25k doubles title in Obidos, giving Nicholls an impressive 16 successive victories and four titles.
Charging towards the top 200
Another final appearance in Monzon, Spain ($25k), followed a quarter finals elimination in Saint-Gardens ($60k), bringing a new career high for the Brit at 270 in the doubles. It’s fair to say Olivia is now a doubles specialist: “This year I’ve been focusing on playing only doubles, and it’s kind of paid off! I’ve had a really good run in recent weeks, so I’m going to continue focusing on doubles.”
With a new focus, comes new challenges. Whilst we all know about the struggles on life on the singles tour, the doubles tour seems even tougher. With less prize money up for grabs, it’s a real battle to make it as a top doubles player.
“One challenge is knowing what tournaments to play. Unlike singles, you don’t enter online and get confirmation about your status in the tournament. You sign in at the venue, and you can’t be sure you will get in. So you have to weigh up the risk of playing a higher level tournament that you might not get in, with a lower level tournament where less points are up for grabs.”
Olivia’s latest tournament – entering a $60k event in France – paid off, with Nicholls and Grey winning an opening round tie against fellow Brit Eden Silva. However, there are other differences in doubles life that makes errors even more costly: “the format of doubles makes it quite cut throat! Sudden death deuces and tie break third sets mean that the margins in doubles are very fine! ”
Injury return and studying with Loughborough is recipe for success
This welcome run of form has seen Nicholls shoot up the rankings, and the Brit puts her form down to focussing on recovering fully from her injuries.
“Ive not really made any big changes, but I did take a couple of months out at the end of last year to focus on my fitness. Last year I struggled a lot with injuries so I couldn’t really put a run of tournaments together. Where as now, I’m playing matches week in week out which has given me a lot of confidence in my game. I’ve also been doing more of my training with Beth – either at Halton where she trains, or at Loughborough where I train, and I think this has really helped us as a pair.”
And it’s in Loughborough where Olivia finds her biggest fans. The Loughborough Tennis Twitter account is always vocal in its support for Nicholls, often waving the flag and shouting about her success. Loughborough has also been a fantastic support for Nicholls, as she completes her coaching badges with one eye on the future.
“My biggest improvements came whilst I was at Loughborough studying for my undergraduate degree. The facilities and tennis package at Loughborough is unbelievable, and during these three years I played a lot of tennis. I began to play the British ITFs and get a bit of a taste for it, and by the end of my degree I felt ready and excited to play full time.
“I’ve been supported by TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) and the Tennis Foundation, who have funded my role as Pro Player Coach. As part of this role, I have continued my training at Loughborough, and gained my Level 3 coaching qualification.”
With qualifications under her wing and a steep rise in the rankings, the future is certainly looking bright for Olivia Nicholls. It’s clear that she is focussed on having a successful career in tennis and it’s refreshing to see the steps she’s taken thus far. On her immediate future, Olivia’s goals are more than realistic:
“By the end of the year, I hope to crack the top 200. I’ve got a few months coming up now where I don’t have many points to defend, so I’m hoping I can capitalise on this opportunity!”Embed from Getty Images
With the grass season almost upon us, it’d be great to see the British tournaments reward Olivia – and Sarah – with some main draw wild cards into WTA events. As a pair, they’re inside the top 100 on the Road to Singapore and they’ve shown they have the ability to test established players on the ITF tour. They are more than deserving of their chance to shine and a step up in tournament level would show just how far they could go as a pair. As for now, with realistic goals and a committed plan to specialise in the doubles, the future looks bright for Olivia Nicholls.