US OPEN: CICI BELLIS—A FRESH START FOR A FRESH STAR

It’s a new week and a new beginning for 15-year-old Bay Area native CiCi Bellis. Last Monday at this time, she was an impressive junior prospect, preparing to make her Slam debut. Today, she’s a media sensation with 8,000 more Twitter followers, after just two matches: a Iightning-bolt defeat of No. 12 seed and Aussie Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, and a nationally-televised three-set battle against another seed, Zarina Diyas.

This morning, Bellis was back on the court, as the top seed in the US Open’s girls tournament, taking her first match in 65 minutes.. “It would mean everything to me to win,” the national girls’ 18s and Easter Bowl champ said afterward. “I haven’t won a [junior] Slam yet, so winning the junior US Open would be amazing.” As for the pressure of being the hunted instead of the hunter, Bellis embraces it: “I love being the first seed. I play better that way, being a target. It’s better for me … I feel more confident.”

Inside Tennis’ Bill Simons and Lucia Hoffman caught up with Bellis and asked about her Northern California roots, some close encounters with idols, and the challenges of being a teen phenom.

Have any players come forward and contacted you this past week?

Before my second round match, Kim Clijsters called. She is my favorite player of all time. She said, “Hi CiCi, this is Kim Clijsters, I don’t know if you’ve heard of me before.” It was so funny.

What’s the best part of being CiCi Bellis?

Everything. I love competing at this tournament, and having people on the street coming up to me and asking, “Are you Cici Bellis?” It’s kind of weird, but I love it. It’s amazing.

When you look in the mirror, do you think this past week is incredible?

Definitely. After my first match, I could barely sleep there was so much excitement going on. I am staying in the same room with my hitting partner, and she couldn’t sleep either. It was crazy.

Did it seem unreal?

Yes.

Cibulkova was the Aussie Open finalist, did you think you could bring her down?

After I saw in the draw that I was getting a pretty tough match, I just came out, played my game, and it turned out very well.

There used to be this great tradition with teen phenoms: Chrissie Evert, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Venus and Serena. Recently, it has been very different. Are you sort of aware of the mine fields, some of the problems that may be before you? Has your team talked to your about that?

Not really, We just kind of focus on my game in tennis, not think about anything else.

How would you describe your own game?

I think I am definitely aggressive and I wait for the right shot.

Talk about the the Bay Area—do you love the region? What does it mean to you?

I love the Bay Area. I would not want to ever live anywhere else.

Do you stick pretty much on the Peninsula [Bellis' parents live in Atherton], or do you ever go out to the ocean?

I haven’t in a while. I’m mainly [at] home, when I’m [there].

What about the other young players in the game. What are your thoughts on Belinda Bencic, Eugenie Bouchard, or even Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens?

They are all amazing players, and I think they are doing amazing things for tennis and the game. I want to be like them one day. I want to be a successful pro. So if I just keep working as hard as they are, we will see how it goes.

When you see Serena, what do you think?

It’s surreal that I’m actually here.

You said you went to the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford early in your life. Do you remember any match you saw there?

When I was younger? I did a coin toss at a Maria Sharapova and Daniela Hantuchova match one year. It was three years ago.

What is your take on the San Francisco 49ers?

I love them. My dad and I both like them.

And what about quarterback Colin Kaepernick? Are you pro-Kaepernick?

Yes.

Do you think he looks a little bit like Nick Kygrios, the Aussie?

A little bit.

What do you think about Billie Jean King?

She’s so motivational.

How about the Orange and Black, the San Francisco Giants?

I love them. We try to go to a baseball game every once in a while.

Do you think USTA Player Development is they doing a good job?

Yes, I think they are. One of my coaches, Leo Azevedo, is with them.

If the tennis gods give you the choice of winning any of the Slams for the first time, which one would you choose?

The US Open, for sure. The honor of being here is amazing.

Have you done anything fun while in Manhattan, have you gone out?

Yes, we went out to dinner one night, and we checked out everything.

Are people starting to recognize you on the street?

Yes, it’s unbelievable.

Since Brad Gilbert, Northern California has had some fine players but no great stars. There’s been a drought. Would you like to change that?

Yes, for sure. I’d definitely like to support the region and be the best I can be.


US Open: Top 10 Stories of Week One—and Sunday Buzz

By John Huston and Lucia Hoffman

1. CICI’S THE BELLE OF THE BALL: In an era when teen phenoms are an endangered species, slight Cici Bellis from the Bay Area looks to be a natural. With her well-crafted groundies, the 15-year-old knocked out No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova, the Aussie Open finalist, and melted the heart of many a hardened New Yawker.

2. WOMEN’S UPSETS: Order and sensibility broke down as one woman’s seed after another toppled. Cici Bellis kicked things off by taking down 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova on day two. China’s Peng Shuai (a dark horse to run deep, with impressive stats) speedily put down Agnieszka Radwanska, while Sweden’s Johanna Larsson showed an error-prone Sloane Stephens the door out of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Tall, big-serving Czech Kristina Pliskova dismissed Ana Ivanovic. Serbia’s lithe Aleksandra Krunic, ranked No. 145, took down two of the WTA’s most powerful hitters—Madison Keys and Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova. In the tournament’s most emotional story so far, a resurgent 32-year-old Mirjana Lucic Baroni knocked out No. 2 seed Simona Halep in straight sets, only breaking down when she discussed—with moving candor—her 15-year journey back to the main stage of the game.

3. MORE AMERICAN PAIN: The long, painful drought continues in American men’s tennis. Just two Americans—John Isner and Sam Querrey—got to the third round. Both were dismissed with some ease—by Phillip Kohlschreiber and Novak Djokovic, respectively—as another dreary year went into the books. In 2014, no American man got beyond the third round at a major, and Isner was the only American to reach that stage more than once. All of this is in marked contrast to our North American neighbors in Canada, who still have young Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard in contention.

4. FROM AGONY TO TRIUMPH: Once battered by her dad, and sidelined by injuries and financial woes, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni was the feel-good story of the Open on the women’s side, reaching the fourth round of a Slam for the first time since 1999, when she beat Monica Seles in the third round at Wimbledon.

5. ANOTHER DAY IN THE OFFICE: Novak ends his vacation, old man Roger, 33, rolls on and Serena stays strong. At the end of week one, none of them had dropped a set. Of course, another

6. HIS AIRNESS MICHAEL JORDAN: The best ever in basketball came by to watch the best ever in tennis, when Michael Jordan was in the stands for Roger Federer‘s first-round match.

7. DOMINICAN DANDY: The first week’s feel-good story on the men’s side was a 34-year-old Caribbean rookie. In his first appearance at the Open, the Dominican Republic’s Victor Estrella Burgos made it to the third round.

8. INTEREST IN INTEREST: A high-profile New York Times article on conflict of interest within the USTA Board of Directors broached an important topic, but ultimately, it sparked little response.

9. THE NEW SERB ON THE BLOCK: Aleksandra Krunic—slight, yet resilient—zoomed through the qualies and then took down America’s underachieving Madison Keys and two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova to reach the fourth round, where she will face former No. 1 Vika Azarenka.

10. BUZZING BEES AND BAD HAIR DAYS: A bee buzzed around and bothered Kimiko Date-Krumm and Venus Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki‘s hair got all tangled up with her racket.

SUNDAY BUZZ:

KILLER COMMENT: Mary Carillo said Sara Errani is “a plucky little buzzkill.”

TAKE THAT, YOU DOUBTERS: If you are wondering if Federer, age 33, still has his speed and athleticism, just check out his ten-step diagonal run to retrieve an adept Marcels Granollers drop shot, which he finished off with a radically-angled flick backhand for an astonishing winner. Not bad for an over-the-hill legend.

COMING AT YOU LIKE A DARK HORSE: With little fanfare, China’s veteran Shuai Peng has snuck into the quarterfinals without dropping a set, playing ruthlessly quick tennis with a noteworthy high ratio of winners to errors while knocking out fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 14th seed Lucie Safarova. Long in the shadow of Li Na, Peng is looking mighty dangerous, and her half of the draw is looking rather open.

A NEW SWISS MISS: As mentor Martina Hingis looked on approvingly from the sidelines, new “Swiss Miss” Belinda Bencic dismissed Jelena Jankovic and her new ‘do from the tournament 7-6(6), 6-3. It was the 17-year-old former junior champ’s Arthur Ashe Stadium debut, and the second straight match in which she’s straight-setted a seeded veteran. Next up: a battle with fellow giant-killer Shuai Peng.

BACK TO SCHOOL: The Daily Tennis News observed, “By the look of things, Novak Djokovic‘s little summer vacation is over.”

STRIKING CLAIM: “He’s the best ball striker in the history of our sport.”—John McEnroe, on Andre Agassi.

THEY DON’T CALL HIM “BABY FED” FOR NOTHING: Maybe it was a relationship blip after girlfriend Maria Sharapova‘s loss earlier in the day, but just like Roger, “Baby Fed,” Grigor Dimitrov, dropped the first set of his match—without winning a game, in fact—before storming to a four-set victory.

GETTING KIND OF NITPICKY: Blogger Kevin Ware asked, “Is it just me, or do Gilles Simon‘s legs seem slightly less toothpicky than in the past?” Indeed, both Simon and his equally skinny fourth-round opponent, Marin Cilic, appear to have put on some muscle (as well as stubble).

OUT OF THIS WORLD: Nick Kyrgios hit a ball out of Ashe Stadium during his loss to Tommy Robredo.

WHITE-HOT WORDS: Mary Carillo said, “Roger lately … has been approaching incandescence.”

ICE AND NICE: Maria Sharapova is famously imperious and icy. Caroline Wozniacki, who beat the Russian today to make the quarterfinals, may be the nicest elite player on the tour since Kim Clijsters.

IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO TRAIN: After Caroline Wozniacki ran down Maria Sharapova‘s shots to come out on top of a long rally, Mary Carillo described the point as “a mini-New York Marathon that paid off for her.”

NO KIDDING: Caroline Wozniacki said, “It’s been a bit up and down for me this year.”

THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE: Caroline Wozniacki.

BOMBSHELL—SOMEONE BOSSES SERENA AROUND ON COURT: When asked what it means to play doubles with her younger sister Serena, Venus said, “It means I’m always the boss.”

CASTING CALL: After noting that American No. 1 John Isner lost in New York to Germany’s top player Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round  for the third straight year, Greg Garber suggested, “If they ever do a remake of Groundhog Day, Isner is a candidate for the lead.”

GO FIGURE: Against the mighty Federer, Spaniard Marcel Granollers won the first ten points and the first three games … Sara Errani hit a total of four winners during her three-set victory over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

IS THIS THING ON? A few times in the first week, usopen.org commentators have been caught on mic complaining about the “brutal” and “so bad” quality of matches they were calling.

TOUR GUIDE: On the subject of what town or village in Italy she’d advise Americans to go to, Sara Errani said Rome. Then, when asked whether Rome, Paris, or New York provided better people-watching opportunities, she replied (with the certainty of one of her canny drop shots), “Rome, of course.”

IN AMERICA, WE SAY “BUGABOO: Jim Courier is known as a book lover—once reading Armistead Maupin‘s Maybe the Moon during changeovers—so it came as no surprise when he referred to Rafa Nadal as Roger Federer‘s “bête noire” during Federer’s fourth-round win.

CLIMB A MOUNTAIN, RUN A MARATHON: There have been high-profile charity efforts outside of tennis by female players before Caroline Wozniacki‘s planned New York Marathon effort, which will be in November. The last big one was in 2010 when Martina Navratilova tried to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer. Then 54, Martina led a team of 25 climbers that came within 4,540 feet of Africa’s highest summit, which is 19,340 feet high. But due to a stomach infection and altitude sickness, she had to endure an all-night rescue. She was carried down the mountain on a stretcher and spent three days in a Kenyan hospital.

LET THEM EAT CAKE: After a reporter told Victoria Azarenka that she had just won her 100th Grand Slam match, the fun-loving vet said, “Really? Where is my cake, then? Like for real…Thank you. Put some icing on it.”

THE EUPHORIA NEVER GETS OLD: After Rennae Stubbs asked Federer, “Do you ever get sick of this, the euphoria?” Roger surprisingly replied, “I get sick to my stomach, because it is the biggest court in the world.”


US Open: Woz’s Words—Caro Speaks After Her Win Over Sharapova

Caroline Wozniacki has beaten Maria Sharapova in the fourth round of the US Open before, when she was the top seed in 2010. But as Wozniacki neared the finish line of her 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 victory today, Mary Carillo took note of the young Dane’s fight back to the top ranks this summer and argued, “I honestly believe this could be the biggest win of her life.” Going into the quarters, Caro is the only top 10 seed left in her half of the draw, though next opponent Sara Errani is a fighter, Shuai Peng is dangerously sharp, and 17-year-old Belinda Bencic (who Caro trounced just over a month ago) is arriving on the big stage in style, with a certain Martina Hingis in the wings watching her progress. Here are some highlights from Wozniacki’s press conference after the Sharapova win:

On her clutch victory over Maria Sharapova:

“It means a lot … The season has been a little bit up and down, and it’s so nice to … start feeling like I’m playing the way I want to … I’m serving well, running well, staying aggressive when I have to, and I make the right decisions at the right moment. And I enjoy playing!”

On preparing for the NYC Marathon:

“Definitely, it’s helping, because I felt fresh out there and I felt like I could keep going … I’m going to run quite a bit in Central Park after the tournament … The marathon breathing down my neck!

On her training in boxing, her exposure to golf [when she was with Rory McIlroy], and her more recent marathon training:
“The marathon is hard work. I run a lot already in my training, so to put those extra miles in … [it] clears my head. I feel more free when I go on court … I love the boxing. It’s so tough … I always get killed during that training, but … It makes me stronger and I know I can push myself really far … Golf is obviously a mental sport. Sometimes it’s the small putts that can make a huge difference …[It's the] same with tennis. You make a ball here [or] there. Important points, those are the ones that count!”

On her pair of losses to friend Serena this summer:
“I told Serena I’m pretty tired of her. Twice she beat me in three sets. I said, ‘Can you just get out of my way?’”

On her favorite fashion designers, and New York Fashion Week:
“I have quite a few … I’m definitely going to go to the Michael Kors [show]. Serena is having her first fashion show, so I’m going to go and support her and see. She’s obviously doing a great job with her designs … Stella McCartney is one of my favorite designers, but she isn’t going to be here.”

Wozniacki’s presser then finished with an odd exchange with an Italian reporter:

Against Sara Errani, being a counterpuncher is not enough. You have to do different things. What do you think could be the real key? I heard what you said before, but [it] didn’t convince me (laughter).

“I don’t need to convince anybody in a press conference, honestly. The only one I have to convince is out there on the court. Sara is a great player. She’s going to get a lot of balls back, and hopefully I will be convincing on the court.”

But before … [Mirjana Lucic-Baroni said] Errani was serving so slow that she couldn’t find the ball…

“Well, thank you. Maybe you can be my coach.”


US Open: Serena Stands Strong, US Men Go Down, and Novak Springs a Surprise

By Bill Simons, Lucia Hoffman and John Huston

JUST WONDERING: If football folks can call Johnny Manziel “Johnny Football,” why can’t tennis fans call Roger Federer “Roger Tennis”?

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Going into the second week, Serena Williams is the last American player left standing in singles—and she hasn’t lost a set.

FELINE PROWESS: After her third-round win, Serena was asked if her leopard-print dress meant that the catsuit she wore here in 2002 might make a comeback. “That’s a good question,” she said. “We all loved the catsuit. At least I did. I saw it the other day in my closet. I was nervous [when I wore it] because it hadn’t been done before.”

NOT EXACTLY BOLD AMERICAN LEADERSHIP: While American men’s tennis may be at an all-time low, ESPN’s Greg Garber noted that John Isner and Sam Querrey—both of whom lost today—aren’t exactly gripped by a sense of crisis. For example, Isner has said, “I just focus on myself. I’m not worried about the whole state of American tennis. I am just doing what I can do, as best as I can. Simple as that.”

THIRD TIME’S NOT A CHARM: For the third straight year in New York, John Isner lost in the third round to the same player, Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.

AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD US—UNDER THE AFRICAN SUN: No one’s more spontaneous or uses on-court interviews or the press room in a more fun-loving way than Novak Djokovic. Not only is he often a light-hearted prankster on court after matches, both Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova have crashed his press conferences pretending to be reporters.

Today, after his win over Sam Querrey, Novak finished his business-as-usual press conference and then, out of nowhere, invited a delightful nine-year-old, Zia Uehling, up to the podium to sing one of her own songs, “African Sun.”

For years Novak has been staying at the New Jersey house of Zia’s dad, Gordon, who used to play on the circuit. Zia, who was recently a flower girl at Novak’s wedding, bowled over a cadre of hardened reporters in the interview room with a sensitive-beyond-her years song. Written while she was in South Africa, it went something like this:

Look out your window on the wings of a dove

Hope’s gonna rise with the African sun

A sun is so bright in your eyes, something we don’t know today, may be coming in your way

We see you standing there, quiet and in despair

Your struggle is hard, but you go farther then you know

Even though you don’t know where to go

Look out your window, on the wings of the dove…We all can be one, play and have fun, under the African sun.

YET ANOTHER HAIR MOMENT AT THE OPEN: First Caroline Wozniacki‘s racket got all tangled up with her long braid. Now Jim Courier, while commenting on Milos Raonic‘s somber ways, said, “Raonic emotes like his hair.”

THAT WORKS FOR US: A couple of adept Americans—John McEnroe and Jim Courier—doing commentary together.

IS IT JUST US, OR…As the Open reaches its middle stages, that eternal question comes to mind—”Where’s Rafa?”

ALEKSANDRA THE GREAT?: Playing her sixth match at Flushing Meadows this tournament, Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic, 21, used rangy, flowing shotmaking, dynamic serving, a clutch sense of touch, and speedy defense to dismantle Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets, becoming the second qualifier (along with Mirjana Lucic-Baroni) to reach the second week.

The match grew dramatic when Kvitova overcame a break deficit to pull even at 4-4 in the second set. The powerful No. 3 seed began barking “Podj!” and charging the net more frequently in an attempt to impose dominance over her younger, less experienced opponent (who currently sports braces on her teeth). But the young Serb who some fans call “AK-47″ made some tremendous saves on a point at 30-30 and hit a lovely angled backhand pass at deuce on her way to a pivotal final break.

Krunic went into the tournament ranked No. 145. She admitted to being surprised by her own “calm” while defeating Kvitova. “I was trying to take positive things from the crowd,” she said. “I didn’t expect that so many people would cheer for me … I cannot say I’m trying to stay on the ground, because I don’t think I’m going to change. I’m trying to believe it, but when I believe it I’m afraid I’m doing to have so [many] emotions. My coach is already screaming and jumping, and I’m trying to stay away from him … I think I pushed myself to my limits.”

Asked who she cheered for in this year’s Wimbledon final, Krunic said Kvitova, adding, “I like Petra a lot as a person. She’s very down-to-earth and I respect her a lot. I like when I can say hi and talk to the players who are much higher-ranked than me and I don’t feel such a difference in our levels. Because we’re still all human beings, and that someone is doing a better job in tennis than me doesn’t mean we’re not on the same level as people.

It’s an honor to be on the same court as Petra.”

SHE’S STRONG AT ARMSTRONG: Playing her last two matches at Louis Armstrong Stadium, 5’6″ underdog Aleksandra Krunic has taken down big-hitting seeds Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova.

ITALY 2, US 0: In singles matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Italy’s Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta have spoiled the hopes of veteran American Venus Williams and post-collegiate US hopeful Nicole Gibbs. One silver lining: Gibbs did beat Italian Francesca Schiavone in Cincy.

GO FIGURE: The New York Post tallied the 100-percent success rate of four women in US Open night matches: Maria Sharapova (17-0), Martina Navratilova (14-0), Chris Evert (7-0), and Pam Shriver (7-0).

HEADLINES:

• ERRANI’S “COTTAGE CHEESE” SERVE TOPS VENUS AT OPEN

• FOGNINI PERFECTS ART OF OUTBURSTS

FAST STUFF: Roger Federer returned a 147mph Sam Groth serve for a winner, and Milos Raonic hit a 140mph second serve.

YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE: After beating two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, Alexander Krunic said, “Of course I didn’t expect to win.”

THIRTY-TWO GOING ON 15: “I feel goofy right now,” said Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, this tournament’s most moving success story, after dismissing second seed Simona Halep on Friday. “I feel like I’m 15. It’s crazy. I’m 32, but I don’t feel like that … I feel fit. I feel strong in my mind. I feel very excited, even after so many years on tour. That’s what I find kind of surprising. I still have so much desire.”

QUIET PLEASE, NO DJOKING: “I kicked Djoko out from the quiet room in the gym before my match with Madison [Keys],” Aleksandra Krunic said after her win over Petra Kvitova. “Today, before my match, I also saw him in the gym. We were kind of joking. He said, “Keep kicking me out if you’re playing good.”

EASY RIDER: “How does he make it seem so easy? That’s sickening for poor Sam Groth.John McEnroe, after Roger Federer scored yet another beautiful winner in their second-round match.

NEW GUY IN CHARGE: Doubles specialist Eric Butorac is replacing Roger Federer as the head of the ATP Player Council. Federer held the position for six years.

THE LONELINESS OF THE THIRD-ROUND SLAM PLAYER: Sizing up a largely-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium at the very beginning of the Flavia Pennetta-Nicole Gibbs match, a Eurosport commentator remarked, “I hope they don’t feel lonely out there.”


US Open: Venus Suffers Another New York Heartbreaker as Women’s Seeds Topple

 

By John Huston with Lucia Hoffman Contributing

She’s one of the greatest fighters in the women’s game. Now 34 and facing an autoimmune disorder that wreaks havoc on her energy level, Venus Williams has outlasted virtually all of her peers in terms of competitive lifespan—and this year, her ranking has risen. But it’s impossible to ignore what has become a pattern: Another US Open, another heartbreaking three-set Venus loss.  

Venus has come out on top of some epic close encounters during her career, perhaps none more riveting than her razor’s edge triumph from the brink of defeat against Lindsay Davenport in the 2005 Wimbledon final. But in recent years, her record in three-set matches has grown dire, extending far beyond New York, where she’s suffered nail-biting losses in 2011 (against Angelique Kerber), 2013 (against Jie Zheng), and now today, against the dogged Sara Errani.

Earlier this summer, Venus appeared to turn a corner, when she vanquished Kerber with some stunning play in the late stages of their match in Montreal, going on to string three-set wins together, including one against sister Serena, on her way to the final.

And at Arthur Ashe Stadium, when Venus repaid a 6-0 loss in the first set to Errani with a second-set 6-0 win of her own, it seemed possible that the seven-time Slam champ might continue to build momentum. But Errani held firm, even when one American fan cried out Venus’s name during her ball toss, and another, irreverent one yelled “Arrivederci!” as the end drew near.

For her part, Venus wavered from 5-3 up, and after a pair of one-sided sets, the third went to a tiebreak. Defined by marathon backhand-to-backhand rallies and clutch drop volleys and touch shots by doubles-sharp Errani, the match’s final two points were electric.

Yet somehow, the outcome almost seemed predestined: Stop me if you think you’ve seen this one before. And if Errani’s doubles skills played a role in her win, conversely, Venus’s commitment to doubles—including a lengthy, hard-fought match with partner Serena last night—likely played a part in her lethargic start today. In the middle of their career, Venus and Serena were criticized for not playing enough, but these days, their love of the game has left fans of both sisters wondering if they’re playing too much.

Not that this troubles Venus. “Doubles teams come and go, but we stick together,” she said about the Williams partnership, after what she noted was her “fourth match in 48 hours,” a straight-set second-round doubles win later in the day. “It’s a match made in heaven.”

LUCKY NUMBER 15: In the Open’s first week, one number sticks out: 15. Fifteen-year-old CiCi Bellis‘s arrival as a teen prodigy had some referring to Andy Warhol‘s maxim about 15 minutes of fame. And today, Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni reached the second week of a Slam for the first time in 15 years when she scored the tournament’s biggest upset so far, taking out No. 2 seed Simona Halep in straight sets. How old was Lucic when she first played at the US Open? You guessed it: 15. (Like Bellis, she had to take a wild card.)

Lucic-Baroni’s story involves comebacks from injuries, financial setbacks, and one of the most abusive coach-player relationships in tennis—she fled to the US to escape from her father, Marinko— and in the post-match press conference, she was asked about her “difficult” personal journey. “I’m a little bit emotional now,” she said, crying. “Sorry. It’s been really hard. After so many years, to be here again, it’s incredible. So many times I would get to a place where I could do it. Then I wanted it so bad that I kind of burned out. I’m so happy.”

Savoring what she called “best day of my life” at age 32, Lucic-Baroni agreed that she’d been “born again” in tennis terms: “I think that’s a great saying. I have heard that over the years, but in these last two weeks, absolutely. Absolutely. In every way.”

AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER? At the age of 34, Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic is making his first-ever appearance at the US Open, and he’s reached the third round. Ironically, to do so, he had to beat a player exactly half his age, 17-year-old phenom Borna Coric.

NOW HERE’S ONE THIEM THAT HAS AN I IN IT: Austria’s rising Dominic Thiem, 20, who blazed back from two sets down to send his friend and frequent hitting partner, the outspoken Ernests Gulbis, packing.

INITIALS BB: One of the rascally French genius Serge Gainsbourg‘s most famous ’60s pop compositions is “Initials BB,” written specifically for the starlet Brigitte Bardot. In WTA fan lingo, BB has sometimes been shorthand for “ball-basher.” But the initials are getting a new identity thanks to the thoughtful play of Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, who notched her first fourth-round appearance with an impressive straight-set win over world No. 7 Angelique Kerber.

PLANETS OUT OF ALIGNMENT: Venus Williams may have lost her singles match today, but New Zealand’s Michael Venus advanced to the third round in men’s doubles.

CICI BELLIS HEADLINE OF THE DAY: “It was fun while it lasted” (from Newsday).

THE SIZE OF THE FIGHT: “We are not too tall, and we have to fight with what we have.”—Sara Errani, about herself and compact male counterpart David Ferrer, on the Tennis Channel.

HE’S GOT 20-20-20 VISION: We always sensed that Roger Federer had a metaphysical side. Now it’s clear that the Almighty Fed has a third eye, thanks to this rendering of our Sept-Oct cover by San Clemente’s Kelan O’Brien—check it out after the jump: More »


US Open: From Agassi to Woz—A Hair-Raising Look at Tennis History

SOME PEOPLE SPREAD THEIR WINGS, OTHERS SPREAD THEIR TOES: When asked what she learned physically during her long recovery from a foot injury, Vika Azarenka said, “I had no idea how to spread my toes.”

HAIR WE ARE: After Caroline Wozniacki‘s hair got caught in her racket during her second-round match, an ESPN commentator said, “She got Rory [McIlroy] out of her hair, now she needs to get her racket out of her hair.” A few other things also came to mind:

• The best quote about hair in the history of tennis was Ivan Lendl‘s comment about the young and flashy Andre Agassi. Lendl said that Agassi was nothing but “a haircut and a forehand.”

• Perhaps no tennis player has been more associated with hair than Agassi. For a long time, unbeknownst to the public, he wore a mullet toupee.

• There’ve been many great hair accessories in tennis, including Bjorn Borg‘s and Pat Cash‘s headbands, but probably no accessory has been more distinctive than the beads the young Venus and Serena wore early in their careers. They still managed to score big wins despite carrying the extra weight, but soon after Venus’s beads fell to the court in Australia, they did away with them.

• Argentine doubles specialist Mariano Hood said his positive drug test was due to the treatment he was taking for hair loss.

When the bald Andre Agassi teased Andy Roddick during an exhibition, asking him, “Let’s see what you got, big boy,” Andy cruelly replied, “Hair.”

Agassi once confided, “I feel old when I see mousse in my opponent’s hair.”

• Asked to describe the definitive memory of her career, Tracy Austin said, “Probably my pigtails.”

• When Bjorn Borg snubbed his own induction ceremony into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, citing a mysterious previous commitment, columnist Charles Pierce speculated that Borg was “perhaps too busy washing his hair.”

• During Casey Dellacqua’s 2008 surprise run at the Australian Open, her endearing over-the-top granny madly cheered and cried while wearing her nation’s flag in her hair.

Serena played a hairstylist on the WE Channel show Hair Trauma.

VANIA’S SONG: In press conferences, Inside Tennis is always seeking different answers, whether they’re in-depth replies or unconventional ones. So, deep in the presser with Vania King, who lost to Serena Williams in the second round, we said to King, “You are known for having one of the best voices in tennis, if you could work with us here and choose a song that expresses a match, what would that would be?”

She thought for a moment and began singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” with its great opening lyric, “Fish got to swim, birds got to fly / I’ve got love one man ’til a die,” but then said, no, the song was too slow. After hesitating, she switched to Peggy’s Lee classic “Fever,” with its immortal lines, “Never know how much I love you / Never know how much I care / When you put your arms around me / I get a fever that’s so hard to bear.”

GUESS WHO’S BACK? For years there has been talk of it happening, and now it is: former teen prodigy Nicole Vaidisova, now 25, appears to be returning to the game. The former world No. 7 is on the entry list for a $75,000 ITF circuit event in Albuquerque.

PINK DRESSES, HOT FLASHES: On the Tennis Channel, Gigi Fernandez recalled the curious fact that legend Tracy Austin still fit into the celebrated pink pinafore-like dress she wore when she was 14, quickly adding, “That made every menopausal woman in America angry.”

THINK BACKHAND: Mary Joe Fernandez said, “If I were a coach, I would tell my player on the WTA tour to always pass on the backhand side.”

HEADLINES: 

• SERENA-TY NOW! WILLIAMS’ GREATNESS NOT FULLY APPRECIATED

• WHAT CANADA CAN TEACH AMERICA

BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS: Only three American men reached the second round of the US Open, the worst start since the beginning of the Open Era. But 12 US women made it to the second round—the most since ’01.

GO FIGURE: In the second round American hopefuls Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys hit a combined total of 123 unforced errors … Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic are 1-24 collectively against Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer.

GRIGORMANIA: After a short time spent dispatching his third-round opponent with the loss of just five games at Louis Armstrong Stadium, Grigor Dimitrov spent a long time signing autographs court-side for a mass of kids whose squeals of “Grigor!” grew ever louder. “You’re gonna win the whole tournament!” one yelled in an attempt to get his attention.

QUOTEBOOK:

“I see him against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, probably the two most popular players in the world, and he doesn’t always get a fair deal form the crowd.”—Boris Becker on Novak Djokovic, to CNN.

“Sometimes Federer is not that kind of player, like Rafael Nadal, who fights on each and every point … I don’t want to say that it is easier to face Roger than it is to face Nadal, but surely Federer decides to give his best if and when he is pushed by his opponent.”—Sam Groth, Federer’s second-round opponent.

JO-WILLY—MASTER OF METAPHOR: Fresh from a title run in Canada, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is being touted by many as a US Open title contender. In a New York Times piece by Christopher Clarey, he also revealed a flair for metaphor. “To be able to win this tournament, you can’t wait for the little window to climb through,” he said. “You have to build yourself a big door and walk through it, because there is no luck in this milieu … I don’t believe that winning a Slam is possible because the others aren’t here … I don’t have any desire to win my Grand Slam by coming in through the little window.”

YOU DON’T SAY? When Sam Querrey was asked to talk about the similarities and differences between 17-time Slam winners Roger Federer and Serena Williams, he replied, “I mean, one is a man and one is a woman.”

TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL: Asked about her next opponent, young Serb Aleksandra Krunic, who upset Madison Keys, big-hitting Petra Kvitova said, “I know that she can push a lot of balls back. [Keys] really tired to show her best … Krunic is just pushing all the balls back, so it’s very difficult to [hit] a winner.”

IT’S TOO EASY BEING GREEN: After her second-round loss, where she was penalized by the ump for touching the net with her racket, Coco Vandeweghe said the official was guilty of “bush league, freshman, green-skin stuff.”

 LUCIA HOFFMAN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS STORY

 


US Open: The Future, Delayed—CiCi Bellis Fights But Falls in the Second Round

By Bill Simons and John Huston

We love breakthroughs.

They feel so good.

But, these days in American tennis, 15 minutes of fame is about all we’re allowed.

Melanie Oudin, 17, mowed down four formidable foes here in 2009 and became a media darling. But she hasn’t sizzled on a singles court since.

Last year’s sensation, Haitian-born Vicky Duval, captured our imagination for a round, but now she’s battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Certainly, this year’s phenom, the 15-year old sweet viper CiCi Bellis, would have her heady 15 minutes, then depart quite properly and go back to the practice courts to hone her skills.

Of course, New Yorkers—not to mention a hyped-up US media—hoped otherwise. They packed into the modest stands of Court 17 many hours ahead of time. Rarely had tennis seen such a buzz for a second-round match. And this match didn’t have a player who’d reached 21. Collectively, Bellis and Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas, 20, are just one year “older” than Venus Williams.

Neither youngster has cracked the top 40, although Diyas is quickly climbing up the ranks—currently No. 46, she’s risen over 200 spots since the beginning of last year. As for Bellis, her No. 1208 ranking going into the Open was just barely in the stratosphere.

Nonetheless, New York’s expectations were equally stratospheric.

After all, in her first-round win over No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova, Bellis unleashed a fierce-beyond-her-years ground attack to prevail over the struggling Aussie Open finalist. At the start of that match, she was the current pride of Northern California tennis. A few hours later, she was an American sensation.

Tonight, however, lacked a fairytale ending. Standing resolute in the face of overwhelming crowd support for Bellis, Diyas drew on her solid baseline game and plain but extremely high-percentage serve to score a 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 victory. She’s won 13 of 16 three-set matches this year, and she’ll now be making her third third-round Slam appearance of 2014 since coming through qualifying at the Australian Open. The US women of her age bracket might wish for such core consistency.

As for Bellis, her loss was still packed with promising signs. She dictated many of the rallies, displayed the more dynamic and versatile game, and unlike Duval in a similar scenario last year, she kept the match from slipping away in straights when the early momentum was seized by her more experienced opponent.

Against Cibulkova, Bellis had walked out on court and won the match’s first eight points before anyone could blink. Tonight, with the crowd chanting her name during changeovers while her father Gordon remained stoic (at daughter’s command) in the stands, she was noticeably jumpy—”nervous and tight” was how she described her first-set play later—and more verbally demonstrative. “That is just terrible tennis!” she exclaimed after one backhand miss early on.

Even Bellis’s seven-game run in the middle was much tougher than it looked, marked by long deuce games and numerous hard-hitting 15- and 20-plus-shot rallies. Toward the end of the third set, Bellis clutched her calf following one long point, and she seemed to turn her ankle during another.

Played in windy conditions, the battle wasn’t without its quirks, with Diyas frequently holding up her hand to ask Bellis to slow down her pace of play on serve, and the crowd sometimes whistling after Diyas caught her ball toss—ESPN even began counting the number of times she’d do it in a single game.

After the match, Bellis remained positive about her US Open experience. “What surprised me is that I could really stay with these pros,” she said, adding, “I think ranking really doesn’t matter. Anybody can beat anyone on any given day.”

Asked by Inside Tennis if she’s contemplated hoisting the US Open trophy, Bellis said, “I’d like to one day, but I’ll have to work a lot harder.” She didn’t flinch at being talked about as “the future of American tennis,” embracing the challenge.

Tonight, CiCi Bellis’s feet are back on the ground, and she’s switching her focus to the US Open girls tournament next week. “It’s definitely going to give me more confidence going into the juniors,” she said, sizing up her rollercoaster Slam debut.

When IT wondered what word Bellis would choose to describe her US Open experience, she didn’t hesitate: “Unbelievable.”

LUCIA HOFFMAN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE


US Open: Kamperman’s Vision for a New, Inclusive Game

By Bill Simons

Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s Chief Executive for Community Tennis, is a candid critic who has an innovative vision for the future of American tennis in a culture that’s changing.

Once a tennis director in South Carolina before going on to become a top leader at the USPTA and the Tennis Industry Association, Kamperman more recently adeptly ushered in key initiatives at the USTA.

At the US Open, he contends, “The last 18 months have seen more changes than ever at the USTA, in large part because of the leadership of USTA President Dave Haggerty.” Haggerty was a teaching pro before heading the Prince and Head racket companies.

Kamperman says tennis needs to adapt to people’s needs. So, for instance, the USTA is beginning to explore low- and no-cost memberships to attract more players who want greater flexibility and options.

Beyond this, notes Kamperman, the USTA is focused on creating a greater number of frequent players. But he quickly concedes that “our competitive models for the masses stink.” In other words, they are designed for the very best players at the top of the pyramid, who are focused on intense competition for rankings and national championships. We don’t have enough programs for players that just want to show up, play a fun match or two, and enjoy the game (as well as compete).

Millions get introduced to the game each year, but few adults or kids have an interest in playing traditional tournaments that stretch—at the least—from Friday to Sunday. According to Kamperman, people want to have more non-elimination events in which players “know when the event starts and when it ends. They need to know they are going to play more than just a single match, and that they won’t need to travel far or have to buy a hotel room.”

In terms of juniors, many parents want to bring their kids at 9:00 a.m., pick them up at 12:00 p.m., and not have to travel extensively or get a hotel room. This way, 25 kids can spend $15-20 for three hours, without their parents hovering about for an entire weekend.

Kamperman notes that only 23,000 players competed in six or more elite level junior tournaments last year, and only ten percent of high school players compete in USTA tournaments. He claims that—despite new rules for young kids, and ROG balls—there is still a traditional mindset amongst many teaching pros and tournament directors that a tournament has to start on Friday and finish on Sunday.

Of course, Kamperman admits, the USTA doesn’t exactly change with a comfy ease: “With our 17 sections and 30 national committees, we sometimes have trouble getting out of our own way. We’re not too good at keeping it simple, and most things don’t happen quick.”

So, does the big ‘ol USTA care? “Absolutely,” Kamperman says, with a quiet, knowing confidence. “We’ve a sense of urgency to grow the game at all levels, but particularly with kids.”

Other notes from meetings of the Tennis Industry Association on the eve of the US Open:

• Fitness and lifestyle motivations are the dominant reasons for playing sports. Twenty-eight percent of Americans said they didn’t do any sporting activity last year, which prompted observers to say that there is “an inactivity pandemic” in America. Many believed that was impossible, but almost 92 million are inactive, and that represents a $28 billion loss in the past six years. And it isn’t just aging members of the boomer generation who are becoming inactive.

The core reason is that we are engineering inactivity into our culture (i.e. kids not only no longer bike to school, they’re obsessed with their techno widgets). Plus, the 2008 recession really hurt people’s involvement in activities. When sports were cut from schools, and people no longer had the money to join clubs, they didn’t come back to play the sports that were dropped or re-join the clubs where they were once members.

• In light of the inactivity pandemic in America, the fitness industry may well be seeking tax cuts on spending for sports equipment.

• The lousy, very snowy weather this year hurt sporting goods sales big time.

• While wearable technology is still an unknown frontier, it is almost a certainty that big electronic companies like Sony will soon be coming into the tennis industry.

• Running and jogging have had the biggest jumps among the big sports. They’ve been successful as a fun activity for all age groups, and have seen a $4.2 billion increase over the past two years

• Basketball footwear is driving mall traffic, and one group, Nike, is overwhelming that group.

• Stand-up paddling is the hottest sport in the country. But its numbers are tiny. The top ten sports in America include user-friendly activities such as walking or bowling (which many play just once a year.)

• During the World Cup, people “bought the heck out of stuff.”

LUCIA HOFFMAN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS STORY


US Open: Petko—”Women Have to be Tougher Than Men”

PETKO—”WOMEN HAVE TO BE TOUGHER JUST TO BE VIEWED AS STABLE”: German Andrea Petkovic, who beat Monica Puig in a third-set tiebreak to reach the third round, is one of the best thinkers in tennis. Here in New York, she reflected on the testy question of women’s emotions, the ways in which female athletes are perceived, and how all of this effects our impressions of Hillary Clinton.

Petkovic noted, “Everybody gets emotional. The women just have to be more aware of this. They have to be tougher than a man, just in order to be perceived as tough.

Maria Sharapova probably is the only woman that’s viewed as really, really tough. Serena shows some emotions, but Maria had to work each and every match for ten years, being mentally strong each match, for that reputation.”

And men? “I saw Roger [Federer] throwing a racket,” Petko said. “All the tough men throw a racquet, except Rafa. [But] I never saw Maria [do that] in [all] my life, which is amazing.

There’s a different perception about emotional women and emotional men. In order not to be crucified, the women are letting emotion get in the way of things. They have to be tougher compared to men, just to be viewed as mentally stable. Which is not fair.

And when you have a bad day, it doesn’t necessarily mean you had hormones going. Sometimes you wake up and don’t feel well. Or you had a bad dream, or your cat died, or your boyfriend broke up [with you]. But, if you are a guy, your girlfriend can also dump you. There are immediate reasons. [People always say], ‘She has hormones.’ ‘Maybe she’s having her period, whatever.’ [But] some women are making a mistake by using that as an excuse. We have to watch out, [and] it’s not only in tennis—it’s definitely in politics. If a woman cries, she will be done for life, [even if] when she cries, perhaps it’s when someone in her family has died. But men, showing emotions is regarded as good for them.”

As for the differences between the men’s and women’s tours, Petkovic said, “The guys also have to go through a lot in order to become a top ATP player. They have to leave their family and travel a lot. They are not at home as much. They have to give up their youth…to become a top athlete. We do the same. The only difference is when we get pregnant. I haven’t heard of a guy getting pregnant yet. You never know—science is amazing nowadays. So, that’s the difference, it takes a year out of you. It’s like being injured once you are pregnant. Men also want to have families. But for a man, it’s easier to have a wife or girlfriend that’s pregnant. She can still travel around or stay at home. He doesn’t have to stop his career for a year. Roger [Federer, who has two sets of twins] is amazing.

I am a very emotional person. I am just trying to be an example, to show that you can also be tough and strong, even though you still show emotions. One doesn’t outdo the other.

Other women before us have achieved so much and we have grown so much. But there are still things that can be changed, and I am sure they will.  And we are all there to help.

Once you have emotions, just say, ‘I don’t know—I was emotional today. I was sad, I was disappointed. I don’t know my hormones.’ Because then you always give nutrition to these rumors.”

A reporter then looked at the big picture, noting that voters might soon be assessing Hillary Clinton, who is perceived by many to be overly controlled.

Petkovic replied, “Hillary’s a good example. Everybody thinks she looks like a machine, that … she has been so cold all these years. But if she had shown emotion in her career, she wouldn’t have gotten where she is now. She would never have been considered a strong candidate for President.

TOUCHÉ, SHE SAID: When Maria Sharapova was asked after her first-round win what rule in tennis she’d like to change, she suggested that players should be charged $2,500 for every medical timeout—an idea that brought to mind her recent flareup about Ana Ivanovic‘s MTO during their semifinal in Cincinnati. After the same question was put to Ivanovic, her answer seemed to target Sharapova—and countrywoman Jelena Jankovic, for good measure. “Some players take too long in between points, and some players rush too much,” Ivanovic said.

When Sharapova’s idea of charging for medical timeouts was mentioned to Ivanovic, she also responded in kind: “That’s a little bit harsh. But I’m sure many players would agree to pay if it’s about health. Maybe toilet breaks [should be charged]. That’s another story. But medical timeouts, I think players use them when they really need them.”

SCARY SIGHT: One of the greatest French players in recent times treacherously jaywalking across Manhattan’s traffic-infested Lexington Avenue.

SO SAD…THEN AGAIN, MAYBE NOT: Already in assorted New York hotels, you spot Himalayan piles of luggage belonging to players who—having lost in the first round—are headed home. “How sad,” you might say. Yes, but then again, first-round losers pocket $37,500.

BIG PRICE, LITTLE SHRIMP: Shrimp costs $30 a pound at the Grand Central Market. (Yes, if they were so inclined, US Open first-round losers could buy 1,250 pounds of shrimp.)

A VEXING QUESTION: Why in the world was the TV in the US Open media room showing a replay of the Jo-Willy Tsonga-Andy Murray match from last year’s tournament in Abu Dhabi?

A FERVENT PRAYER: US Open darling CiCi Bellis seems so sweet and real. So, puh-leez, let’s hope she doesn’t go Hollywood on us. (Somehow, we doubt she will.)

SAM AND LOUIS: On the 50th anniversary of Louis Armstrong Stadium, IT asked Sam Querrey for his thoughts about the site. “It’s my favorite court in the world,” Querrey responded. “I love playing out there. Got a good record there. It’s a fun court. People are down close … I’m always excited when I play out there.”

IT then informed Querrey that there are plans to knock down Armstrong Stadium after next year. “Oh. Well, what are you going to do?” he replied, to some laughter.

Following a line of thought, we noted that Querrey had been successful at UCLA’s Straus Center, which has since been closed down. “When Louis [Armstrong] is done, I’m done,” he joked.

More seriously, Querrey was enthusiastic about the idea of an ATP event returning to UCLA, since LA is currently lacking a top tournament. “I would love that,” he said. “I’m not going to try to convince them, because that’s a waste of time. But I hope they bring a tournament back there. I played really well there.”

TENNIS—SPORT OF A LIFETIME: In case you didn’t notice, Inside Tennis’s posts yesterday included a profile of a 15-year-old girl, CiCi Bellis, as well as John Isner‘s remembrance of the passing of a legendary 93-year-old icon, former Georgia coach Dan Magill.

GO FIGURE: Sloane Stephens hit 63 unforced errors in her second-round loss. Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska‘s average second-serve speed in her straight-set second-round defeat was 70mph.


US Open: A Star is Born—CiCi Bellis, See What You Have Done

By Bill Simons

It’s a cliché: “A star is born,” exalt the dream makers.

There’s the ice maiden Chrissie, flawless and American as apple pie. There’s bounding Boris, a blond Euro kid like no other. There’s slight Steffi, just 15, unleashing fierce forehands to win the Olympics.

And now, dare we say, there’s CiCi.

On second thought, no, let’s not succumb to hype and burden another young player with legendary expectations.

But make no mistake: Today, CiCi Bellis—so young, so fit, so focused, and so very fearless—captivated an ecstatic US Open crowd that packed into the recently upgraded Court 6, just outside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“She’s as tough as nails,” said one fan.

“She’s so good! That was amazing—incredible!” exclaimed a trio of stunned fans from Boston.

Yes, lest we forget, Catherine “CiCi” Bellis has delivered perhaps the biggest triumph by a Northern California player since Brad Gilbert was “winning ugly.”

Of course, Bellis doesn’t win ugly. She wins with some grace, and her last name is oh-so-close to the Italian word for beauty.

And Bellis wins big. To take the champion’s trophy at the Mountain View Open at 14, she downed many a seasoned adult player. Last year, she also claimed her second Easter bowl title, as well as the prestigious Les Petits Ans international junior tournament in France. And Bellis—the product of a family which first came to San Francisco in 1851—helped Northern California to win the Maze Cup over uber-power Southern California for the first time in 28 years.

Earlier this summer, Bellis even tamed a fierce force of nature—that would be last year’s US Open girls finalist, Tornado Alicia Black—to win the coveted US Girls’ 18s championship in San Diego. In the process, Bellis—now 15—became the youngest girls national hard court champ since Lindsay Davenport in 1992.

Yet all of this was merely an anonymous prelude for today.

Here, in her first-ever Slam match, on the biggest stage in tennis, in New York, f—— New York, with its hefty heat and deafening fanatics, Bellis beat the tournament’s No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. Cibulkova is a reigning Grand Slam finalist, having reached the Aussie Open women’s final in January. She’s ranked No. 13 in the world, while Bellis is ranked outside of the top 1200.

Still, Bellis, who hails from wealthy Atherton, California, has a resume that is already rich with wins.

From France and Milan to Mountain View and San Diego, she loves to compete. Yes, her nickname is CiCi, but the personable and level-headed 15-year-old scores an A+ in inner fire.

With technically sound, dynamic shot making and a calm focus beyond her years, she took down the seasoned Slovakian Cibulkova as if she was out for a hit at Cuesta Park. Visibly sharper than her veteran opponent during the warmup, she came out blazing, winning the first eight points of the match and dominating pivotal later moments with aces and winners.

Still, winning in the Big Apple is no cakewalk.

Afterward, reporters swarmed and dream makers began scheming. A player handler in the Ashe Stadium hallways asked Bellis how the moment felt—”Unbelievable,” she answered—and then warned her with a laugh not to go outside on the grounds. Meanwhile, sages breathlessly asked the Lords of Player Development, “Is she our best young prospect?”

“She likes to play,” remarked an understated Jose Higueras. “She embraces the pressure and the crowd, and that’s good.”

And both the crowd and the media embraced the 15 year old. They know how to do that. They did it last year with the Haitian wonder child Vicky Duval, and they did it big time in 2009, when 17-year-old Melanie Oudin waltzed past a cadre of imposing Russians that included Ms. Maria Sharapova. “She’s just always in the right place at the right time,” Chris Evert remarked during Bellis’s victory. “Wow—charisma, and composure that goes with a big game.”

One has to look back to 1996, three years before Bellis was even born, to find a younger player who’d won a round at the US Open. (The name of that player? Anna Kournikova.)

Bellis was virtually unknown this morning, but now no detail about her was too small or trivial.

“What does it feel like, CiCi?” one reporter asked..

“Words can’t describe it,” she replied.

“Did you surprise yourself?”

“I’m feeling amazing. I’m still speechless.”

“You beat Tornado a few weeks ago. Is this more of a storm?”

“For sure, yeah,” said the poised kid.

We soon learned that CiCi likes to text, and use Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. She’s also (unlike Genie Bouchard) outgrown Justin Bieber. As for the talk show CiCi would most like to be on, that would be Ellen. And yes, CiCi’s friends were tweeting “#TakeDownCibulkova” before the match, which the Californian—who has been training under Jelena Pandzic, and also under the USTA’s Leonardo Azevedo in Carson—did with a certain ruthless abandon. Her forehand punished. She came from behind. She hit second-serve aces and closed the match confidently, with barely a blink.

The proud little lioness Cibulkova left the court in a stunned humph, eager to privately lick her ample wounds, while that CiCi kid who rocked the Big Apple left many onlookers in a daze. Longtime cynics cautioned us, “Not so fast—we’ll ‘see see’ about CiCi,” while hardened New Yorkers joyously sang an appropriate victory ditty adapted from the old blues and rock classic “See See Rider”:

Oh see, see see rider girl, see what you’ve done
Oh oh, see see rider, see what you’ve done now …
Now see see rider, I love you, yes I do…

See see rider, see see rider, see rider
See see rider, you keep on a ridin’, keep on a ridin’.


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