By Ann Liguori
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You should be hearing her name a lot more in the future. CiCi (short for Catherine) Bellis became the story in the early stages of the U.S. Open.
Bellis, at 15 years of age, became the youngest player to win a U.S. Open match since 1996 when she rallied from being down a break in the third set to oust 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
Bellis gained entry into the main draw as a wild card based on her winning the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championship, and she was the youngest to win that in 23 years.
Throughout the match, the Californian showed why she’s a shining light on the American tennis scene. She smacked winners from both sides of the court — pumping her fist with every winner — got the crowd going on Court 6, played aggressively and kept the pace up.
And with few young American players grabbing the spotlight, Bellis’ stunning upset is a much-needed reprieve, at least for a few days, from all the questions about the future of American tennis.
Bellis had nothing to lose and she went for it. In the third set, Bellis held serve at love in the ninth game to go up 5-4. Then she broke Cibulkova in the 10th game to win the match, 6-4, in the third. She showed an all-court game and is quick.
“I went into the match thinking it was going to be such a great experience,” said the teenager, “but I never thought I would come out on top winning.”
She said she thrived on the crowd’s energy.
“I love when people watch me,” she said. “It gives me more energy and makes me play better
You have to love that, a true performer rising to the occasion.
Bellis also seems to have a good head on her shoulders. When a reporter asked her about the decisions to turn pro versus staying an amateur — and about the thought of earning $60,000 — Bellis replied, “I think I’m definitely going to stay an amateur right now to keep my options open for college, in case an injury or something happens. But I’d love to be a pro one day.”
Bellis grew up idolizing Kim Clijsters, admiring “Clijsters’ confidence, the way she carried herself, her game.”
“I love everything about it,” she added. “The fact that she had kids, then came back to win the U.S. Open. That’s crazy. That’s amazing.”
By winning her opening match, Bellis became the youngest to win a match at the U.S. Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996.
The teenage sensation shared wisdom beyond her years that can serve as inspiration for any age.
“You have to believe in yourself,” she said “Believing was the number one thing that I had to do today. Just go out there and believe that you can win. If you don’t believe, there’s one option. If you do believe, there’s two options. You can either believe and lose or believe and win, but if you don’t believe you’re going to lose anyway.”
That philosophy makes sense to me, and should serve her well in her years ahead.
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