TENNIS US OPEN – Fifteen year old Cici Bellis caused a major upset on Tuesday by knocking out 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova. The teenager has made it publicly known that she is not going “pro” just yet and so will not be accepting the $60, 420 in prize money for this 1st round victory. Is it the right choice? From New York, Cordell Hackshaw
Ubaldo talks to Gordon Bellis
It seems like every year when the USTA gives out their wildcards for the US Open main draw to the talented lot of young American players, amongst them is one who makes a major splash at the tournament. This year, it appears as though 15-year-old Catherine Cartan “Cici” Bellis is that player. She came into this tournament a virtual unknown to most tennis fans. Last year, she lost in the 3rd round of the Juniors to the eventual champion, Ana Konjuh. However, this year, she knocked out 12th seed and 2014 Australian Open finalist, Dominika Cibulkova in 6-1 4-6 6-4 in the first round of the main draw. Yet, this is not the biggest byline of this story. Bellis has made it publicly known that she is not going “pro” just yet and so will not be accepting the $60, 420 in prize money for this 1st round victory.
Since the Australian Open, Cibulkova has been struggling to find that form to be a major contender. She has played poorly at most of the regular tour tournaments and lost in the 3rd round at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Coming into the US Open, Cibulkova won only a single match at the four US Open Series tournaments she played. Although Bellis’ father, Gordon Bellis, stated that the plan for her in this first round encounter was not to lose “double bagels,” tennis fans knew that Cibulkova was susceptible to an early upset. The young American broke Cibulkova to open the match and never looked back for the rest of the set taking it 6-1 in 23 minutes. In the 2nd set, Cibulkova gained control early when she led 4-2. Bellis battled back to level it at 4-4 but Cibulkova lifted her game again to close out the set 6-4 and thus level the match.
One expected Bellis to shrink under the pressure but she persevered. She came back from an early break in the set to lead 5-4. Cibulkova serving to stay in the match could not come up with the goods. Bellis broke Cibulkova to take the match 6-1 4-6 6-4 in an hour and 43 minutes. “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,” said Bellis after the match.
The young American players who have all made a splash at the Open over the past few years have all benefited from numerous sponsors and endorsements but Bellis would not be one of those. “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.” According to Mr. Bellis, a college education is really important to the family and this was something that was decided amongst them all. On initial glance, this might seem like a strange decision as tennis has a long history of young tennis stars several of whom are the sport’s greats. However, in recent times, this has become less of an occurrence. Consider that on the ATP, Nick Kyrgios is the only teenager in the top 100. On the women’s side, it has been the tour veterans who are dominating at the big tournaments, Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Flavia Pennetta. Serena Williams, the current world’s number 1 is 32 years old, soon to be 33 in September.
Several years ago, the WTA put in place a very strict and detailed age limit on tour. Players have to be 18 years or older in order to be fully on the tour and cannot join the tour until they are 14. The young players are limited to a handful number of tournaments and have to qualify rightly or gain a wildcard which is also regulated. This has greatly reduced the ability for most of these young players to gain any real foothold on the tour. Even if they are winning, it is virtually impossible for them to maintain the ranking and move up high as the number of points they are able to earn is also limited. Therefore, those initial lucrative sponsors and endorsement will soon dry up when the good results and ranking do not materialize. These young players then soon find themselves facing mounting bills and difficulties breaking even whilst traversing this global sport. The pressure to produce often times become too much. Consider the case of Melanie Oudin and her magical 2009 US Open run at 17. Since then, she has yet to win a tour title and has only won 4 matches at the majors. She lost in qualifications this year.
With this in mind, Bellis’ opting to forgo this early professional route and to stick to playing junior tennis and concentrate on school, is far more sound than senseless. She is being home-schooled so as to have more practice time. According to her father, Bellis is extremely driven about her tennis career and holds very strong opinions on the matter. He however, feels that at this time, there are more important things than the potential money she can make. He noted that there are many cases of young tennis “phenoms” burning out early and also the emotional turmoil between them and their parents. Both he and his wife, Lori Bellis, are trying to prevent any of these issues from affecting their only child. Nonetheless, Bellis is only 15 years old and there is still about 3 years before she can become a full tour member and also before entering college. That is a lot of time for things to change. Bellis will next play Zarina Diyas for a place in the 3rd round.
Victoria Azarenka Cruises Past Svitolina To Reach Australian Open Fourth Round
The former champion produced a ruthless display to book her place in the last 16.
Victoria Azarenka is through to the fourth round of the Australian Open after beating 15th seed Elina Svitolina 6-0, 6-2 in 67 minutes.
Facing a top 20 player at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2016, the world No.25 hit 17 winners and four aces in the win. Azarenka, who is one of only eight active players to have won more than 100 Grand Slam main draw matches, improving her record against Ukrainian players to 16-1.
“I thought I was really well-executing my game plan. I wanted to put as much pressure as I could on her and kind of not let her come into the match,” said Azarenka. “She’s an amazing fighter. I know if I give her a little room, she’s going to get back out there. That was my purpose today, and I think I executed that well.”
It was the number 24 seed with the better start to the match and ashe played aggressively from the word go. Earning three chances to break in the very first game and broke to take an early 1-0 lead. After consolidating the break, Azarenka was hungry for more and she got another chance to go up a double break and broke once again with a stunning forehand winner.
at 4-0, the Belorussian continued to dominate and broke Svitolina’s serve once more this time with a backhand winner down the line before serving out the first set to take it 6-0 in 25 minutes flat.
The first game of the second set was a carbon copy of the opening of the first set with Azarenka breaking once again to take a 1-0 lead and it stayed on serve until 4-2 when the number 24 seed went up a double break to lead 5-2.
The last game was a long affair with the Ukrainian starting to find her game and it went back and forth with the Belorussian looking to seal the win while Svitolina pushed back to stay alive.
It took six match points and saving three break points before Azarenka was able to serve it out and take the win. She will now face Barbora Krejickova who defeated Jelena Ostapenko 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
“The rise of Barbora has been pretty incredible over the last year and a half, basically since COVID. She seems to kind of elevate her game more and more. She has all the good tools to play,” the two-time champion said of her next oponent.
“She can play aggressive, she can mix it up. A very dangerous player. We played once in Ostrava. It was pretty tight match and really good quality.” She added.
Naomi Osaka Overcomes Second Set Scare To Reach Last 32 At Australian Open
Naomi Osaka is into the last 32 of the Australian Open where Amanda Anisimova awaits.
Two-time champion Naomi Osaka overcame a second set scare to defeat Madison Brengle 6-0 6-4 to reach the third round of the Australian Open.
Osaka overcame a second set scare as she produced another dominant display of power to reach the last 32 against the unconventional American.
The world number 14 is looking for her fourth grand slam title in Melbourne.
Next for Osaka is Amanda Anisimova who beat a physically compromised Belinda Bencic 6-2 7-5.
It was a lightening quick start from Osaka who took the opening set in 20 minutes.
A display of power, accuracy and pace saw Brengle struggling to gain points on her service games.
The American isn’t a player who is going to hit you off the court and her shots were way too conservative against a player like Osaka who hits the ball so cleanly from the baseline.
Brengle came close but no reward as Osaka reeled off seven games in a row to take a 6-0 1-0 lead.
However Brengle eventually settled into her rhythm and to her obvious delight was ecstatic to win her first game of the match.
This relaxation allowed her to play with complete freedom as she started to use a lot of depth, angles and topspin to disrupt Osaka’s rhythm, who’s level dropped slightly.
Brengle created nine break points which Osaka saved with aggression and precison but on the tenth one, the American eventually broke to go a break up in the second set.
The American’s smile said it all as she was now in command of the second set but that didn’t last long.
That’s as Osaka used her champion’s skills to grind the break back and then went on a run of eight consecutive points to seal victory and a spot in the third round.
After the match Osaka spoke about her return game and the prospects of facing Amanda Anisimova in the next round, “I honestly want to say I returned pretty well,” Osaka admitted in her on-court interview.
“Been really working on it in the off-season. I’m trying not to [rate my level] if I compare myself to the past I will never be satisfied. I’m trying to take it one day at a time.
“I think we’re both going to take our chances. It’s very interesting to play against the younger players because I remember being a younger player myself and having nothing to lose.”
Friday’s meeting between the two players will be the first time they have faced each other.
Aryna Sabalenka Survives Sanders Scare At Australian Open
The Belarussian was made to work hard during her opening match at Melbourne Park.
World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka came back from the brink of defeat to seal her spot in the second round of the Australian Open.
The two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist struggled with her consistency throughout her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, win over wild card Storm Saunders, who is yet to win a Grand Slam main draw match in her career. At one stage Sabalenka looked to be on the verge of suffering a third consecutive Tour defeat after trailing by a set and a break to the underdog before staging an emphatic fight back. Doing so with the help of her rival who started to unravel as the match progressed.
“She played well, she’s a tough opponent and I’m happy I won today,” Sabalenka said of Sanders during her on-court interview.
Sabalenka’s roller-coaster victory is best illustrated by the match statistics. Dealing with inconsistencies in her serve, she produced a total of 12 double faults and won 43% of her second service points. Furthermore, she hit a total of 29 winners against 37 unforced errors en route to the victory.
Playing a top 10 player for only the second time in her career, 27-year-old Sanders started the match in clinical fashion as she produced a level of tennis which exceeded that of her current ranking. Three consecutive times she managed to dismantle the Sabalenka serve to open up a swift 4-1 lead. However, the second seed briefly managed to find her footing in the match to claw her way back and level the set at 5-5. Not to be disheartened, Sanders continued pressing her opponent who faltered at the worst possible moment. Granting the underdog another break before she closed out the set.
On the verge of suffering an upset, Sabalenka’s woes continued in the second set when she got broken once again three games in. Trailing 5-7, 1-3, she managed to turn her fortunes around with the help of a six-game winning streak. Exposing the inexperienced her opponent has of playing on the biggest stages of the game. Serving to level up, she triumphed on her third set point with the help of a serve down the center of the court which Sanders returned out.
Into her stride, Sabalenka charged towards the finish line by winning a further four games in the decider before Sanders managed to register another game of her own. Serving for the win, a blistering serve down the center of the court secured the victory.
“I was already (mentally) in the locker room. Maybe that was the key because I stopped thinking too much and started playing tennis. I tried to put the ball (on the court) as much as I could and I think I did it well. That’s why I came back (in the match),” Sabalenka commented on how she turned the match around.
“Now I will recover and then tomorrow I will speak with my team about my next opponent.”
Sabalenka will play China’s Wang Xinyu in the next round. She could claim the world No.1 ranking in Melbourne if one of two scenarios occur over the coming days. She reaches the final and Ash Barty loses before the quarter-finals or Barty reaches the Quarter-finals and Sabalenka goes on to win the title.
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