Cici the Comeback Queen

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

Melbourne

Before there was Coco, there was Cici. In 2014, the 15-year-old Cici Bellis from Atherton, California downed the No. 12 US Open seed Dominika Cibulkova. In a manner reminiscent of Coco Gauff, she became an overnight media darling. Tennis does love young, breakthrough winners who promise delight.

Cici was the youngest player in 18 years to win a match at Flushing Meadows. Three Boston fans gushed, “She’s so good! That was amazing—incredible!” Headlines blared: “Cici is Believing” and “The Golden Girl With a Golden Future.” Yes rather brilliantly, Cici did go on to climb way up the ladder to No. 35 in the world. That works.

Then a devastating right forearm injury derailed her. She endured multiple surgeries and fierce physical and mental pain. One of the many procedures she went through required one of the bones in her arm to be shortened, with a plate put in its place. Her ranking plummeted to No. 600.

She stepped away and took online college courses. Her coach Tom Gurreridge noted, “Cici has had a really tough time these past two years; it’s been a lot of ups and downs, she had to do a lot of rehab…just making sure her body was ready to train again.”

As late as October she was told that she’d never play again. But Cici’s California ancestors go. back to the era of the 49ers. She’s tough and focused. Slowly she recovered and got into shape. Her goal was just to play a tourney. In November, she played a qualifying match in Houston. She won, and went on to reach the third round of the main draw – a great first step.

Most recently, Cici got a wildcard into the Aussie Open. In the first round, she beat the considerable German, Tatjana Maria, and on this dusty, gusty day, she downed the No. 20 seed, Czech Karolina Muchova to reach the third round. There she’ll face a stern test – the No. 16 seed, Belgian Elise Mertens.

Then again, the 20-year-old Bellis knows a thing or two about stern tests. She has a relatively slight build, but she’s tough and steely. Just ask Dominika Cibulkova.

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ZVEREV SAYS THE DAM WILL BURST: Inside Tennis asked the 22-year-old German, Alexander Zverev, if, once one of today’s young hopefuls actually kicks butt and wins a Slam, will that burst the dam? Will that change the landscape of men’s tennis?

The No. 7 seed replied, “I think once one of us wins it, it’s going to be easier for the others. We always look at each other…When I started winning Masters Series, all of a sudden the other guys came through. Karen Khachanov won a Masters Series. Daniil Medvedev won [one] and got to the US Open final. We’ll see how the other young guys will do.

“It started with Tsitsipas, maybe, when he got to the semifinals here last year. He was the first young guy. Then Medvedev got to the US final. I’ve made two Slam quarterfinals. I think we help each other. Even though, maybe, some of us don’t want to admit it, because we have all kinds of personal relationships with each other. But once one of us wins it, it’s going to be good for the others.”

SEEDY STATS: 50 years ago the No. 1 women’s seed at the Aussie Open was Margaret Court. Forty years ago it was Martina Navratilova. Thirty years ago it was Stefanie Graf. In 2000 it was Martina Hingis. Ten years ago it was Serena. This year it’s Ash Barty. The Aussie was No. 15 going into last year’s Aussie Open.

TENNIS’ CUPS RUN OVER: Due to the success of the American Coco Gauff this week, the sport has been savoring more dandy cups of Coco. And speaking of cups, tennis has plenty of them right now. The Laver Cup has hit tennis like a bolt. Team Euro, led by Roger Federer – who owns the Laver Cup – has won all three of them, including the one in Geneva last September. Spain, with a huge home-court advantage, rolled to victory over Canada at the Davis Cup (also called the World Cup of Tennis) in Madrid in November. And Serbia, led by ATP Player Council president Novak Djokovic, won the inaugural ATP World Cup in Australia in front of many zealous Serbian ex-pats. It’s hard to imagine going on with three Cups being played within about 15 weeks of each other. But in this sport, stranger things have happened.

HEADLINE OF THE DAY: Brown Rains Fall in Victoria

QUOTEBOOK: 

“The internet is so – you don’t feel a human connection.” – Naomi Osaka

“You open Instagram and there are 500 million [people] who have an opinion about you all of a sudden.” – Alexander Zverev

I’M A WOMAN, I CAN MULTITASK: It’s simple, says Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The return of Sania Mirza, after a two-year absence, has meant, “The locker room just got a lot noisier.” India’s great star, who’s a new mother, confided that her young son still sleeps with her, and he travels with a bigger entourage than she does. When asked whether all the demands of being a mom and a tennis pro help sharpen her multi-tasking skills, the 33-year-old, who won six Slam doubles titles, replied, “I’m a woman…multitasking is something that maybe comes a little bit more naturally to women than men. I’m just going to say that.”

Mirza partnered with Nadiia Kichenok to win the doubles in Hobart before the Aussie Open. Here, the duo was trailing in the second set of their opening match. Then the 33-year-old Mirza was forced to retire with a calf injury.

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