She’s not big. She’s not powerful. Her parents aren’t Olympic heroes. But her growing fan base has big hopes for CiCi Bellis. They hope the 18-year-old will – in the tradition of Chrissie, Tracy and Jennifer – be the next Cinderella of American tennis.
Already, we’ve seen plenty of big-stage magic from the Atherton, CA native. Many say she’s well on the way to tennis’ grandest balls. Never mind that at first glance she seems like a bit of a waif on court – CiCi’s had two high-profile runs at the US Open, and wins over a Wimbledon finalist, Aga Radwanska, an Australian Open finalist, Dominika Cibulkova, and a Slam titlist, French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko. She’s the youngest woman in the top 100.
Then last night Bellis arguably scored the most stunning, high-profile win by a Northern Californian on Northern California soil since Stanford student Tim Mayotte beat Jimmy Connors at the Transamerica Open over 35 years ago. Bellis’ 6-2 6-0 win over the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was a shocker. Goodness, the powerful Czech didn’t win serve once.
What CiCi has been winning is hearts – locals are loving her. Now they hoped that CiCi, the youngest Bank of the West Classic semifinalist in a decade, would become the first teen finalist in Palo Alto since Kim Clijsters 15 years ago.
But even for Cinderella, there were bumps in the road. Okay, last night, Bellis was the princess of Palo Alto. But the WTA is defined by a Darwinian brutality. Just 18 hours after her “a star is born” win, Bellis was brought down to Earth in the battle of the four-letter stars – CiCi vs. CoCo [Vandeweghe].
Simply put, CoCo rang Bellis’ bell. This was a 1:05 drama-free beat-down. Vandeweghe, with her big serve and punishing forehand – who this year reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals and the Australian Open semis – imposed. Bellis had the speed, youth, eagerness and deep-hit consistency to bring down Kvitova. But Vandeweghe’s size, power, booming serves and experience was too much.
The oldest remaining player in the draw, the 25-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe is best known in these parts as the 2012 finalist who lost to Serena. Today, she didn’t lose much. Rather, she continually had Bellis twisting and out of place. The teen often had to sprint just to get her racket on the Coco blasts raining down on her. Bellis broke serve just once.
They say all you have to do to get the gist of an NBA game is to watch the last three minutes.
In the last three points of today’s semi, Coco ran to a far corner and gave us her best Pete Sampras imitation, as she whacked an incredible down-the-line forehand to the corner. Then she blasted a 117 mph ace, followed by a 116 mph service winner. Game, set and match, Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-1.
Afterwards, CiCi told Inside Tennis, “My serve needs to improve a lot…I still need to get a bit bigger and a bit stronger.”
Yes, a rising star of American tennis lost today. She wore an all-red outfit. But is she “red-dy” for prime time? Well, maybe not today – but soon, probably very soon.