Just 15 years old, Catherine “CiCi” Bellis was the first to declare that it’s “just crazy” that she’s in the second round of the US Open, having dispatched No. 12 seed and 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 first-round thriller on Court 6 on Tuesday.
But the Californian earned every one of her 84 points, pummeling winners from all angles to the delight of the raucous, pro-American fans who lined the court six rows deep. Asked later if the crowd that grew steadily in numbers and volume made her nervous or excited, she declared, “I love it when people are watching me. It gives me more energy and makes me play better.”
And play better she did, while admitting that dropping the second set and going down 1-3 in the third was “kind of a bummer.” At that point, the world No. 1,208 recalled the advice of her coach: “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 conviction was palpable during the match, to which fans initially flocked to get a glimpse of the world No. 2 junior and stayed out of a communal sense that they were watching her grow up. Astonished murmurs of “She’s only 15!” turned into excited comparisons to past prodigies. At 15 years, 152 days, Bellis is the youngest player in this year’s event by two years, as well as the youngest to win a match at the US Open since Anna Kournikova at 15 years, 93 days in 1996.
In her post-match press conference, Bellis seemed a little bewildered and genuinely amused by the throng of media who wanted to know details about her family background (ask her dad), the origin of her nickname CiCi (a combination of Catherine Cartan, her first and middle names), favorite talk show (“The Ellen DeGeneres Show”), tennis idol (Kim Clijsters), go-to store in the mall (Urban Outfitters) and which favorite food awaited her at dinner. With similar maturity to that which she had just exhibited on court, she replied she is planning “just a quiet dinner or something, then think about the next match, not really celebrate much.”
After all, Bellis’s US Open is just beginning. Before she contests the junior competition later this week, she will face Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko in the second round – just the 14th pro-level match of her career.
“One of my friends played her in the qualifying,” Bellis said. “She’s obviously a really great player. It’s going to be a really good match.”