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.
Kim Clijsters Handed Wildcards For Top American Tournaments
The four-time Grand Slam champion says she is ‘excited’ to be returning to the Tour.
Former world No.1 Kim Clijsters isn’t giving up on her comeback to tennis anytime soon after confirming that she will play at the Miami Open later this month.
The Belgian has been awarded with a wildcard to play at the prestigious WTA 1000 event which is held at the Hard Rock Stadium. It will be the first tournament Clijsters has played since the US Open last year and the first time she has played in Miami since 2012. She is a two-time winner in Miami after triumphing in 2005 when she was unseeded in the draw, as well as 2010.
“The Miami Open was always a favorite stop on tour for me,” said Clijsters. “I have great memories and also had great results there. I’m excited to be coming back to Miami.”
Clijsters is currently in the process of her second comeback to the Tour. She first retired from the sport in May 2007 before returning two years later. She would continue playing for another five years before calling it quits at the 2012 US Open following a lengthy battle with injuries. Last year she played in a total of three tournaments but lost her opening matches to Garbine Muguruza in Dubai, Johanna Konta in Monterrey and Ekaterina Alexandrova at the US Open.
James Blake, who is the tournament director of the Miami Open, has hailed the return of Clijsters to the tournament. Paying tribute to her both on and off the court.
“We are very excited to have Kim returning to Miami,” he said. “She is a tremendous player and an even better person. Plus, it’s not often you get the opportunity to see someone who has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame compete at an event of this level.”
After Miami, Clijsters will kick-off her clay court campaign in the country after receiving a pass to play at the Charleston Open which takes place the week after Miami. It will be the first time in her career she has played at the event which has been part of the women’s Tour for more than 30 years.
Clijsters has won 41 WTA titles so far in her career with the most recent occurring back in 2011 at the Australian Open. She has spent a total of 20 weeks as world No.1 which is a longer period than Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Jelena Jankovic.
The Miami Open will get underway on March 22nd.
‘Very Happy’ Madison Keys Stuns Bencic In First Match Since September At Qatar Open
The world No.19 speaks out about her comeback win after recovering from COVID-19.
Former US Open finalist Madison Keys has marked her return to the WTA Tour with a straight sets triumph over Belinda Bencic in the first round of the Qatar Open.
Keys, who last played at the French Open prior to this week, looked to be in top form as she dismissed the sixth seed 6-1, 6-4, in just over an hour. The American hit 24 winners against 13 unforced errors as she won 83% of her first service points. She was only broken once in the match which was during the closing stages of the opening set.
“It’s amazing to be back. I’m smiling under my mask,” Keys said during her on-court interview. “Disappointed that I couldn’t go to Australia, but very happy to have the first match of my season like this.”
The 26-year-old is looking to get back on track after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this year which ruled her out of the Australian Open. Keys endured a lacklustre 2020 season where she only played five tournaments due to the pandemic and registered eight wins on the Tour.
“I just had super, super mild symptoms, so I was really lucky and got back on the court as soon as I was over it.” She explained.
This week the world No.19 is seeking her first title of any sort since the 2019 Cincinnati Open and the sixth in her career. Next up for the American will be a clash against Maria Sakkari who kicked off her campaign in Doha on Monday with a clinical 6-0, 6-3, win over Egypt’s Mayar Sherif.
Unlike other tournaments, Keys has the luxury of playing in front of fans under strict COVID-19 regulations. Visitors are required to use a contact tracing app, undergo temperature checks and wear masks at all times. The number of spectators has been capped at 20% of its normal capacity.
“To come out and play in front of fans again is so amazing. We (the players) really appreciate everyone who comes out and cheers us. I’m super happy to see them back,” said Keys.
“It’s going to be a really tough match (against Sakkari). She got me the last time we played. I’m going to have to look at that match to see what she did better than what I did and hope I do a better job next time,” she later added.
In other matches, Germany’s Laura Siegemund set up a meeting with Victoria Azarenka after battling past Elena Rybakina 7-6(7), 7-6(5). Also through to the next round is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, One Jabeur and Jessica Pegula who won their matches in straight sets.
Former Tennis Star Reveals 2016 Retirement Was Linked To 18-Month Ban
The former world No.66 says she was suspended from the sport after engaging in a fight with another player following one of her matches.
A top 100 player who stunned Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round of the 2005 US Open when she was the defending champion has made a shock revelation about the reason why she retired from the sport.
Ekaterina Bychkova, who peaked at a ranking high of 66th in her career, was a familiar face on the women’s Tour that played in 15 Grand Slam main draws between 2005-2011. During her career, she won 10 ITF singles titles and five in the doubles. She hung up her racket in 2016 after playing one qualifying match in St Petersburg but the decision to retire wasn’t entirely her choice.
In a recent interview Bychkova revealed for the first time she was slammed with a 18-month suspension from the sport after engaging in a fight with another player. The incident took place following her match against Slovakia’s Kristina Kucova at an ITF $100,000 event in Nanjing, China.
“In the third set Kuchova began to suffer from convulsions (cramps). But according to the rules, you cannot call a doctor for convulsions and you cannot lie on the court for five minutes. However, she lay on the court for several minutes, then the supervisor came, who said that it was not a seizure, which means that a break was needed. He clearly sympathized with her,” she said during an interview with website Bookmaker Ratings.
“Kuchova returned to the match and immediately began to serve powerfully, kick the ball and move well. She was released psychologically, but on the contrary, I was shackled.”
A furious Bychkova ended up losing the first round match 7-5, 6-7(1), 3-6, to Kucova who is currently ranked 149th in the world. Although the incident between the two players didn’t take place on the court. It occurred later on that day when they crossed paths again.
“I was asked to take a walk for 20-30 minutes. Suddenly this beauty floats past me, cheerful. I broke down and started a fight,” she said.
“Two days later, the supervisor announced to me that our fight was on camera. It was a hostel on the court grounds, not an official hotel, and in fact the fight did not take place on the territory of the tournament.”
Reflecting on her actions, which was caught on CCTV, the Russian says they were in no way justifiable and she regrets how she reacted. Not only did she end up with a 18-month ban from the sport, she was also fined $3,150.
At the time Bychkova said she had the option to appeal the decision but opted not to do so because she didn’t want to go through the process of hiring lawyers and travelling to London for an ITF hearing. Claiming that the fight didn’t actually occur on the tournament site but at a hostel located on the surrounding grounds. She also said her decision to not to appeal was because she was ‘tired of tennis.’
Now at the age of 35 she has decided to give playing professional tennis another go. This week she played her first match in five years at an ITF event in Moscow where she lost in the first round to world No.611 Anastasia Tikhonova.
There has been no public comment from Kucova regarding Bychkova’s account of what happened in China.
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