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.
Aryna Sabalenka Explains Reason Behind Recent Breakthrough On The Clay
The 25-year-old has proclaimed that she is no longer scared of the surface.
Aryna Sabalenka believes her notable improvement on the clay has been achieved due to a change in how she approaches the surface mentally.
The Belarusian lifted the biggest title of her career to date on the surface at the Madrid Open on Saturday. In the final she rallied to a three-set win over world No.1 Ash Barty to avenge her loss to the Australian in Stuttgart a couple weeks earlier. She has now won ten out of 11 matches played on the clay so far this year which is more than she has won during each of her three previous seasons. Prior to 2020 she has only reached the final of a WTA event on the dirt once.
Speaking to reporters following her triumph in Madrid, the 23-year-old says she had been ‘overthinking’ about playing on the surface until this season. Instead she has taken a more relaxed approach which seems to have done wonders to her game.
“I would say before I was thinking too much about the clay court, that this is a surface not for me, that it’s really tough to play on with long rallies,” she said.
“This year I kind of relaxed and just played my game. I worked a lot on the movement, so I prepared myself really well.’
It has to be noted that conditions in Madrid also favour the big hitters such as Sabalenka. Due to Madrid’s high altitude the ball travels faster than other tournaments in Rome and Paris.
“My focus is just on my game, that I have to stay aggressive, that I have to move well on the clay court, make sure I can hit these shots really clean, heavy shots,” Sabalenka explained.
“Something has changed in my mind for the clay court for this year. I’m not really scared of this surface any more.”
It remains to be seen if the breakthrough will do any wonders for Sabalenka in the Grand Slams. At the French Open she has only managed to claim back-to-back wins in one out of three appearances. Reaching the third round in Paris last year. Despite being ranked continuously in the world’s top 20 since August 2018, she has only managed to reach the fourth round of a major twice so far in her career.
Nevertheless, things are going in the right direction for Sabalenka who will rise to a ranking high of fourth in the world on Monday. She is also a top-five doubles player on the Tour as well.
“That’s unbelievable. That’s crazy,” she commented on her rise to No.4. “I’m really happy with this improvement. There are still a lot of things to improve.’
“I’m not really focusing on the ranking. I’m focusing more on my game” Sabalenka added.
Sabalenka will be seeded seventh at the upcoming Italian Open where she has a bye in the first round. Her opening match will be against either Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo or Italy’s Camila Giorgi.
Sabalenka Wins 10th Career Title In Madrid
Aryna Sabalenka won her 10th career title in Madrid with a three set win over Ash Barty.
The Belarusian beat the world number one in three sets to claim the title in the Spanish capital.
Aryna Sabalenka is your Mutua Madrid Open champion after beating the world number one and Aussie Ash Barty in three sets 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 hitting 34 winners and serving nine aces in the win.
“I’m really happy with the win, it was a crazy match and I’m really happy and it feels amazing right now”
The Belarusian got off to the best possible start holding her opening service game and going right to work on getting the early break which she did the following at the second time of asking with solid return forehand winner.
The Aussie looked out of sorts and in 25 minutes the number five seed had blitzed through the first set and won it not losing a game.
The world number one was determined to stay in the match and had four chances to break in the very first game of the second set and did at the fourth time of asking to take an early 1-0 lead.
At 2-1 the number five seed earned two chances to get the break back and go back on serve and she did just that with one of her powerful forehand winners.
The very next game the Belarusian struggled on serve and gave the world number one another chance to break after a double fault and she would break again.
That break was enough for the Aussie to take the second set and force a deciding third set for the title.
The first three games went with serve and at 2-1 it was the Aussie once again with two chances to break after another double fault but the number five dug in once again and managed to save both breakpoints and hold serve.
At 4-4 it was the Belarusian turn to apply pressure on the world number one and she earned three breakpoints and she would get the crucial break with a stunning return winner.
She would serve out the match to extract revenge on her Aussie opponent for beating her the previous week in Stuttgart and on Monday will be the new world number four.
After the match in her post match press conference Sabalenka told Ubitennis how she was able to overcome the adversity of losing the second set.
“That is why she is number one, she is always trying to find a way and she did it really well in the second set, the first set was a really quick one and I was surprised and in the second set she started using the slice more and moving better and was a little bit more aggressive, it was a great level during the entire match and I am really happy that I could finish it with a win”
Sabalenka will now travel to Rome to play in the Italian Open and as of Monday will be the new world number four when the new rankings are posted which is a career-high.
Five Takeaways From Men’s And Women’s Rome Draws
Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu all return to Rome next week.
Here are five things to take away from Men’s and Women’s singles draw from Rome.
Next week is the start of the next stop on the road to Roland Garros as the ATP and WTA tour heads to Rome next week.
The Italian capital will host a star-studded line-up as Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep look to defend their titles.
With another week of stacked ATP and WTA draws here, let us take a look at the five key points to take from this week’s draws:
- Nadal Set For Zverev Rematch
Rafael Nadal could have a rematch with Alexander Zverev again in Rome next week as has already faced a mixed start to the clay court season. A quarter-final defeat to Andrey Rublev in Monaco was followed by a Barcelona title before losing to Zverev in the Madrid quarter-finals this week. It looks set to be another week where Nadal could face the tall German, whom he has lost on three consecutive occasions to. Before Nadal can get to Zverev, Nadal may have to overcome Jannik Sinner and Casper Ruud, two rising stars who are capable on this surface.
- Serena Handed Good Draw On Tennis Return
Next week will see Serena Williams return to a tennis court for the first time since her Australian Open semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka. Having had her physical struggles since the end of last season, Serena now competes in a limited schedule but will be keen to boost her Roland Garros chances next week in Rome. The 23-time grand slam champion could face Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska in her first match before Belinda Bencic stands in her way of a rematch with Osaka in the last eight.
- Djokovic Looks To Avenge Recent Clay Losses
After winning the Australian Open in January, Novak Djokovic would have wanted a better clay-court season than he has had after being knocked out by Dan Evans in the third round in Monaco and an epic semi-final loss to Aslan Karatsev in Belgrade. After taking Madrid off, Djokovic looks to build momentum and may have to face Dan Evans again this week in his first match. The likes of Grigor Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas await Djokovic en route to the last four where Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev will wait for the Serb.
- The Barty Party Looks To Roll On
Ash Barty is silencing the critics week by week and proving why she deserves her world number one ranking after winning Miami, Stuttgart and reaching the final in Madrid. In two of those three tournaments mentioned Barty would have played Aryna Sabalenka in the final. Although that won’t be happening in the final, she could face the Belarusian in the quarter-finals in Italy as a fairly comfortable draw has presented itself for the Australian. Barty’s first opponent will be either Martina Trevisan or Yaroslava Shvedova.
- Bianca Andreescu Returns
After suffering an injury in the Miami final and testing positive for COVID-19 in Madrid, Bianca Andreescu looks to finally settle into a clay-court season as she returns in Rome. The tricky Canadian will start off against Anastasija Sevastova or Jil Teichmann before facing Petra Kvitova. If Andreescu can negotiate the first two rounds then a dream match with Simona Halep could await in the last eight. As for Halep her Rome campaign could start against Angelique Kerber.
Here is the full ATP and WTA draw:
David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta advance to the second round in Rome
Felix Auger Aliassime Goes The Distance To Win First Match In Rome
Aryna Sabalenka Explains Reason Behind Recent Breakthrough On The Clay
Matteo Berrettini Says Words From Federer’s Coach Ljubicic Aided Belief In His Game
Madrid Open Daily Preview: Sascha Zverev Plays Matteo Berrettini for the Men’s Championship
Daria Kasatkina Opens Up About Her Sexuality
(EXCLUSIVE) Q&A With Daria Abramowicz – The Psychologist Behind Iga Switek’s Historic French Open Run
Naomi Osaka And The (Other) Surfaces
Benoit Paire Excluded From Olympics For ‘Deeply Inappropriate Behaviour’
(EXCLUSIVE) Meet Carlos Martinez: The Man In Charge Of Daria Kasatkina’s Resurgence
Steve Flink: “Jannik Sinner Will Be a Top 10 Player by the US Open”
(VIDEO) Miami Open Final Preview: Jannik Sinner Is The Favourite But Don’t Underestimate Hurkacz
Steve Flink: “Naomi Osaka Will Win At Least A Dozen Slams”
Steve Flink: “Djokovic and Nadal will end up with more Slams than Federer”
Steve Flink: “Why would Djokovic fake an injury when he’s two sets up?”
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