CiCi Bellis, the 15-year-old who charmed the US Open crowd for all but a moment in August, claimed her first professional title at the $25,000 event in Rock Hill, S.C. last week.
Bellis, who was awarded a wildcard in the event, was scheduled to play Alexandra Stevenson in the first round, before the 32-year-old withdrew. (Part of Stevenson’s greater plan to win Wimbledon in 2018? You decide. #embracedebate)
Qualifier Alexis Nelson provided little resistance in the opener, before Bellis saw off fellow American teenager Katerina Stewart, herself a semifinalist in the girls’ singles at the US Open, to advance to the quarterfinals. There, Bellis defeated South Africa’s “other” CS, Chanel Simmonds before rallying from a set down to take out Greece’s Despina Papamichial in the semifinals. In the final, Bellis had little problems in defeating former Florida Gator Lauren Embree, 6-4, 6-0.
When Bellis defeated Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova at Flushing Meadows, it seemed as though she had the world at her feet. ESPN scrambled to get a camera out to a jam-paced Court 6 to capture her winning moment. She happily chatted with the assembled media in the expansive Interview Room 1. Chants of ‘CiCi, CiCi!” rang out as the morning turned to dusk on Court 17.
To quote Al Trautwig, “An American dream died…and it died with honor.”
The reality for Bellis is that she’s likely to compete more often in the Rock Hills of the world in the coming seasons. Ranked outside the top 1000 in the world prior to the US Open, Bellis currently sits at No. 423. Limited by the age-eligibility rules, it will be difficult for her to play enough tennis at a level where she can consistently win ranking points. It’s a long road to the top, but to her credit, and unlike others before her, she seems willing to travel it.
Bellis was not the only American, nor was she the only teenager, to claim titles in tennis’ minor leagues last week. Sam Querrey continued his winning streak on the ATP Challenger Tour with a win in Tiburon. According to the ATP, Querrey is the first American to win three USTA Pro Circuit events in one year since Michael Russell did so in 2009.
In addition, 14-year-old Russian Sofya Zhuk won her maiden pro title at the $10,000 event in Shymkent, Kazakhstan last week. Also born in 1999, the Russian qualified and won the title without dropping a set. She looked decidedly unimpressed.
#kidz these days.