CiCi Bellis's US Open run captures American imagination

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Flushing Meadows
CiCi Bellis
Bellis only made her senior tour debut in February
US Open, Flushing Meadows, New York
Dates: 25 August-8 September Coverage: Live radio and text commentary on Andy Murray's matches, plus commentary every day from 18:00 or 18:30 BST on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra

CiCi Bellis could not quite prolong the fairytale, but she extended her stay long enough to dominate for a second day at the US Open.

The American 15-year-old succumbed 6-3 0-6 6-2 to Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas, with the world number 48 finally ending the teenager's challenge at 9.57pm local time on Thursday.

Bellis, ranked 1,208 in the world, had been the talk of Flushing Meadows following her stunning win over 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova on Tuesday.

Anticipation for her second-round match among the 37,922 spectators who came through the gates on day four overshadowed some of the biggest names in the sport on show elsewhere.

By the time she set foot on Court 17, it was packed to the rafters and ready for the kind of late-night match that only New York can produce.

Who is CiCi Bellis?
Real name: Catherine Cartan Bellis - CiCi is a nicknameBorn: 8 April 1999
From: San FranciscoSenior WTA debut: February 2014 in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel
Her favourite player growing up was Kim ClijstersShe chose tennis over football at the age of 10
Her first US Open memory was Maria Sharapova in 2005 or 2006She is schooled online at home in California

With sirens wailing and music blaring in the background at various points throughout nearly two hours of action, Bellis hit 21 rasping winners and had to be told to slow down between serves by the umpire at one stage.

But the evening ended in defeat, and the question now is: "What next?"

"People saying that I'm going to be the future of American tennis - that's what I've wanted to be since I was a little kid," said Bellis after her defeat.

"I think that definitely makes me want to work really hard and try to become that."

Bellis is the youngest player to win a US Open match since Anna Kournikova in 1996, and the man who guided the Russian has been impressed by the American teenager.

"Bellis has weapons; Anna did not have weapons," legendary coach Nick Bollettieri told BBC Sport.

"Anna had an excellent backhand, good volleys and good movement. This young girl has huge groundstrokes.

"She will have to work to get a little more bite on the second serve, but you can only get out of the engine what the engine can produce. If you push that too much then you can hurt her.

"But she has an unbelievable attitude for a youngster, very much like Maria Sharapova - 'I belong out here, and I'm a winner'. But she's only 15, she's still growing, so be careful."

CiCi Bellis
With Court 17 at capacity, some fans resorted to watching Bellis's match against Zarina Diyas on big screens at Flushing Meadows

From Atherton, California - described by Brad Gilbert on US TV commentary as "the most expensive zip code in America"external-link - Bellis apparently defies the tennis stereotype that an affluent background leads to players lacking hunger.

"Her mom was a good tennis player, her dad is an investment banker," added Bollettieri.

"The thing is now everybody's going to be coming after her. Is she ready to go out and play Sharapova, Azarenka, Venus, Serena, one after the other? You have to be careful."

Bellis was playing in the main draw thanks to the United States Tennis Association's tradition of awarding a wild card to the US girls' and boys' champions.

She follows in the footsteps of great names like Chris Evert, who made it through to the semi-finals as a 16-year-old in 1971, and Tracy Austin, who reached the quarter-finals in 1977 as a 14-year-old, and again in 1978.

Austin would win the title in 1979 and 1981 before injuries took their toll while she was still a teenager, and there is already caution in the air at Flushing Meadows.

Youngest top 10 players in women's tennis history
Jennifer Capriati14 years, seven months (Oct 1990)
Andrea Jaeger15 years, two months (Aug 1980)
Tracy Austin15 years, three months (Mar 1978)
Gabriela Sabatini15 years, four months (Sep 1985)
Monica Seles15 years, nine months (Sep 1989)

The next step looks likely to be entering the US college system, which means Bellis will not be able to collect the $60,420 (£36,518) prize money on offer from the US Open - unless she were to change her plans and turn professional.

"It appears that the family doesn't need the money," said Bollettieri.

"I believe that's got to be a family decision - along with a manager who knows the game and the negatives and positives of turning pro so quick.

"It's a big decision for the family. She probably could sign for several million dollars, but then it's your daughter too."

Bellis's mother, Lori, gets too nervous to attend matches, while her father, Gordon, is under strict orders to keep his emotions under wraps on the sidelines - "I just have to sit there like a Sphinx and just smile and pray" - but dad was clearly not among those ramping up expectations around his daughter.

For now, the junior world number two is keen to return to competition among her contemporaries.

"He was just really proud of me, everything that I'm doing," said Bellis. "It doesn't matter. We're here for the juniors, so just move on. It's OK."

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