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Sports: Is 15-Year-Old Catherine Bellis The New “It” Girl In Tennis?


 

Regardless of the outcome of the U.S. Open, the play of Catherine “Cici” Bellis will be talked about for a long time.

Bellis is a 15-year-old amateur that earned a wild-card berth at the U.S. Open by winning the USTA Girls 18’s National Championship, becoming the youngest to do so since Lindsay Davenport in 1991.

In just two days, Bellis had become the talk of the tennis world, when she became the first 15-year-old since Anna Kournikova in 1996 to win a match at the U.S. Open.

Bellis was set to meet Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the Open. Cibulkova, the runner-up at the 2014 Australian Open, went into the tournament ranked 12th. She was expected to at least make it past the first two rounds until she met Bellis.

Early on in the match it was clear that Bellis wasn’t going to be intimidated by the higher seeded Cibulkova. Bellis got to her early and ended up winning the first set 6-1.

Stunned, Cibulkova was barely able to win the second set 6-4.

Bellis fought her back from her disappointing second set, and rose to the occasion topping Cibulkova in a close set winning 6-4, and giving her the match.

ESPN tennis analyst and former tennis pro Chris Evert praised Bellis after her big win.

“She has charisma and composure. She’s not a big girl, but she has a big game for somebody that young, with great feel for her shots,” said Evert. “The way she reacted to the pressure – she’s out there loving every minute of it. No intimidation whatsoever.”

Bellis took her newfound confidence into her next match against Zarina Diyas. Diyas is a 20-year-old player from Kazakhstan, and while she didn’t have the ranking Cibulkova had, she wouldn’t lay down for Bellis.  Bellis lost the first set 6-3, but was able to shut out Diyas 6-0 in the second.

After losing seven straight games, Diyas was able stage a comeback in the third set and take a 2-1 lead.  However, during the change-over, Bellis slammed her racket to the ground in anger. She lost her focus, and despite winning a late game, lost the last set 6-2 and was defeated by Diyas.

After the match, Bellis talked to an ESPN reporter about her thoughts on the match.

“Maybe it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, but thank you, everybody, for coming out,” she said. “It was amazing. I mean, I never thought I’d be here.”

Bellis didn’t expect to be here, she was just a normal teenage girl living in Atherton, California. When asked about her typical activities, she replied, “the Stanford mall or something like that.”

The mall is an answer you would expect from a 15-year-old kid, but Bellis proved throughout her brief run at the U.S. Open that she possessed a maturity that was beyond her years, and the same can be said for her game as well.

Recently, the amateur scene has had its young stars become a huge reason as professionals.

Players such as Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep have had their junior success translate onto the pro tour. Bouchard has reached three straight major semi-finals (Australian, French and Wimbledon). Halep, a finalist at the French Open, was ranked as the #2 seed at the U.S. Open.

However, even with the recent success of Bouchard and Halep, Bellis is no rush to turn pro anytime soon as she stated in a recent interview.

“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,” she said. “But I’d love to be a pro one day.”

Regardless of her decision to stay as an amateur, she was able to make an impact during her first run as a professional. Catherine Bellis is going to be a huge star in the future, and for the game of tennis, it can’t come soon enough.

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