August 27, 2014
Picture this. You are not even ranked in the top thousand of women’s tennis. You are only fifteen. In the first round of the US Open you have to face the Australian Open finalist, the powerful pocket rocket, Dominika Cibulkova. A handful of supportive friends turn up at Court 6 to witness what we all know will be a hopelessly one-sided affair, at best a steep learning curve. Playfully they get the rest of the crowd on your side.
Then something strange happens. Something very strange indeed.
Catherine “Cici” Bellis, from just outside San Francisco, ended up beating 12th seed Cibulkova 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 to make history.
At 15 years and 152 days, she is the youngest girl to win a match at the US Open since 1996, when the rise of Anna Kournikova stole the headlines. True, Cibulkova hasn’t shown any form on hard courts this year. But Bellis is an amateur, a wild-card, a kid, ranked 1,208th.
Logically there should only have been one conclusion. Indeed Cibulkova went a break up in the third set and it appeared that the natural order had been restored. But “CiCi” roared back with breaks of her own to pull off a remarkable upset.
‘I mean, I never thought I would be practising or sharing a court with, you know, a player that I watch on TV frequently,’ she said, scarcely able to believe what she had achieved.
‘I’m feeling amazing. I’m still speechless. I’m still in shock. I went into the match thinking it was going to be such a great experience, but I never thought I would come out on top…winning.
‘I had four friends that started some of the chants. I thought “Oh my God!” I loved it and it made me play even better.’
Bellis will play world number 42 Zarbia Dyas of Kazakhstan in the second round. The world will be ready and watching this time. Meanwhile Serena Williams in a two-tone leopard-print dress defeated fellow American Taylor Townsend 6-3, 6-1. The fashion-conscious Serena would have had to play naked to make as many waves as the extraordinary “CiCi” Bellis.
Roger Federer demonstrated the sparkling “hot-dog” shot on the way to beating Marinko Matosevic 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). The Fed would have had to invent a new and even more breathtaking skill to grab the headlines this time. They belonged to Cici. The kid from The Bay. Somehow it was just destined to be that way.
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