A new tennis star was born today at the US Open. At just 15 years of age, Catherine “CiCi” Bellis pulled off the biggest shock of the US Open championships thus far upsetting No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova in three sets 61, 46, 64.
Bellis, a native of Atherton, California, gained entry into the US Open only via a wildcard after winning the Kalamazoo junior 18s last month. That win for the No. 2-ranked girl in the world made her the youngest USTA Girls’ 18s National Champion since Lindsay Davenport also won it at 15 in 1991.
But today she took it to the big leagues stunning the Australian Open champion by playing a fearless brand of tennis. The win makes her the youngest player to earn a victory at the US Open since a 15-year-old Anna Kournikova was victorious in 1996. And she’s the youngest American to win at the US Open since 15-year-old Mary Joe Fernandez won at the 1986 US Open.
After her big win over the 1208th-ranked Bellis met the press:
Q. Can you explain your feelings right now? Can you believe it?
CICI BELLIS: No. 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.
Q. You’re actually trending on Twitter now. If you had a hashtag to sum up this afternoon, what would it be?
CICI BELLIS: I know some of my friends were doing hashtag like take down Cibulkova, something like that. I know three of my friends did that, I guess (laughter).
Q. Did you surprise yourself? You haven’t played a pro tournament in a while. What were your expectations going into this?
CICI BELLIS: I mean, yeah, I’m feeling amazing. I’m still speechless. I’m still in shock about that match. I went in thinking I was going to play as well as I could possibly play. I obviously played pretty well. So I’m really happy.
Q. You beat Tornado a couple weeks ago. Is this more of a storm for you?
CICI BELLIS: For sure, yeah.
Q. What is the feeling like?
CICI BELLIS: Words can’t describe it right now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to think of it better.
Q. Can you tell us more about your family, your background, your name, where it comes from.
CICI BELLIS: You’d have to ask my dad that. I’m not 100% sure. He’s right there if you want to ask him.
Q. What has been your approach to the decisions about turning pro versus being an amateur? What does the thought of $60,000 mean to you?
CICI BELLIS: 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.
Q. Knowing that $60,000 could have been yours with this, what goes through your mind?
CICI BELLIS: I don’t really think about it. I mean, I try to just focus on, you know, the tennis rather than anything else, especially thinking about something after the match, like what’s on the line for the match, so…
Q. Whenever we have an American have a big result, they go on a talk show. Who would be your dream show and why?
CICI BELLIS: Oh, that’s a hard question. I love Ellen. I think I would want to go on Ellen.
Q. Your name, CiCi?
CICI BELLIS: So Catherine, my middle name is Cartan. So I just decided CiCi.
Q. When you were younger who was your idol?
CICI BELLIS: Definitely Kim Clijsters. She’s always been my favorite until obviously she retired. But she’s been my favorite, for sure.
Q. When the crowd started growing, did that make you nervous or excite you more?
CICI BELLIS: No. It gave me more energy. I love it when people watch me. It gives me more energy and makes me play better.
Q. What were your thoughts when they were chanting? Did you ever think that would happen?
CICI BELLIS: No. I mean, I had like four friends that started some of the chants. I was like, Oh, my God. I loved it. It made me play even better.
Q. What is your first US Open memory?
CICI BELLIS: I was born in San Francisco, so I first remember watching the US Open when I was I think six or seven on TV. I was watching Sharapova play a match. I don’t remember who she was playing. But, yeah, that was my first memory.
Q. Was the Bank of the West the first pro tournament you went to?
CICI BELLIS: Yeah, I go there every year.
Q. Do you think you’ll win it next year?
CICI BELLIS: I’d love to play it next year. I think that would be really fun, too.
Q. What are your memories of seeing Serena Williams play and how have your views of her evolved as you’ve grown up?
CICI BELLIS: I just think she’s such a great person for American tennis and a player for America. She has done so much for tennis here. So I love, you know, watching her. I love like her game style and everything about that.
Q. What is your favorite hobby? You read books or watch cartoons?
CICI BELLIS: I like to, you know, hang out with friends or go to movies or stuff like that.
Q. What sort of movies?
CICI BELLIS: Anything.
Q. You mentioned Kim was someone you looked up to, and Serena. They’re in their 30s. Can you see doing this another 15 years, given all the hard work you put in?
CICI BELLIS: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s been my dream to do this. So I think doing it as long as them would be amazing.
Q. When did this dream start? First was ballet or…
CICI BELLIS: When I was younger, I played soccer and tennis. When I was about 10 I chose tennis over soccer. That’s when I really focused on practicing a lot, practicing really hard, to get to this point and everything.
Q. What did you like most about Kim? She was athletic and so nice. Pretty good at doing the splits, too.
CICI BELLIS: I mean, everything about her. Her confidence on the court, the way she carried herself, her game. I love everything about it. The fact that she had kids, then came back to win the US Open, that’s crazy. That’s amazing.
Q. What has the experience been like of your debut Grand Slam, being in the locker room, on the practice courts with these top players in the world?
CICI BELLIS: Yeah, it’s crazy to think that I’m actually here right now with all these other people. I mean, I never thought I would be practicing or sharing a court with, you know, a player that I watch on TV frequently. I mean, it’s crazy. But I love it.
Q. Who have you shared a court with practicing?
CICI BELLIS: I played with a bunch of the American girls the other day. I played with Christina McHale, Jenny Brady, those girls. That was really fun, too.
Q. What do you think it requires of you to stay on top for the next 10 years?
CICI BELLIS: I mean, that’s going to be really, really hard obviously. But just practicing really hard, keep practicing as hard as I am right now. I think that’s going to take me further. I hope so at least.
Q. Someone plays tennis in your family?
CICI BELLIS: My mom did.
Q. Better than you?
CICI BELLIS: In the juniors she played a lot. She played a little bit in college, too.
Q. If you hadn’t earned your way into this tournament, what would you have been doing today?
CICI BELLIS: Practicing hard for the junior US Open.
Q. Are you still going to play that?
CICI BELLIS: Uh-huh.
Q. What are you doing after today to celebrate?
CICI BELLIS: Just quiet dinner or something, then think about the next match, not really celebrate too much.
Q. Do you have a favorite meal you would want to get after something like this?
CICI BELLIS: You know, anything that looks good. I mean, I’m pretty hungry right now. I could eat anything right now.
Q. When you’re home, where do you like to hang out?
CICI BELLIS: Stanford Mall or something like that.
Q. Where in the mall?
CICI BELLIS: I actually just went with one of my friends. We went to Urban Outfitters, stores like that.
Q. With a win like this, will it change your tournament schedule?
CICI BELLIS: Yeah, even before this tournament I was going to play more pro tournaments this fall. I was going to play a couple 25,000s, 10,000s, see how those go.
Q. What did you do to get ready for today’s match? Do you listen to music?
CICI BELLIS: Oh, yeah, for sure.
Q. What were you listening to?
CICI BELLIS:Anything that gets me pumped up, like dance music, stuff like that. I love listening to that before my matches. It gets me really excited.
Q. Do you remember what song was playing before you stepped on court?
CICI BELLIS: I don’t remember the exact one, no.
Q. Are you going to high school?
CICI BELLIS: I’m homeschooled.
CICI BELLIS: Online school. I do K-12.
Q. What do you know about your next opponent?
CICI BELLIS: I don’t know much about her. It’s Tsurenko, right? I’m pretty sure that’s her. I know that one of my friends played her in the qualifying. She’s obviously a really great player. It’s going to be a really good match.
CICI BELLIS: I don’t even remember the song at all. I was so focused on the match before.
Q. You said you used to like Bieber when you were younger. Who do you like now?
CICI BELLIS: I don’t know really where they got that. I haven’t posted that at all about Justin Bieber. Yeah, I used to like him when I was younger, a couple years ago.
Q. What were you thinking right before the match? What were your thoughts going through your head right before you started to play?
CICI BELLIS: Just go out there and have fun and play as well as I could possibly play and see how it goes.
Q. You were down 3-1.
CICI BELLIS: Yeah.
Q. What is going through your mind at that point? What clicked at that point?
CICI BELLIS: Well, yeah, when I was down 3-1, it was kind of a bummer, because I won the first set, lost the second. We had a long game the first game of the third set. I ended up winning that and then lost three games in a row. I just kind of told myself, Calm down, don’t think about who you’re playing, who is on the other side of the court. Just be free. You have nothing to lose.
Q. When did you start feeling good, start turning it around at that point?
CICI BELLIS: Definitely when I was down 3-1 I just kind of relaxed. It obviously doesn’t matter if I lose today. She’s obviously 12 in the world or whatever, so it doesn’t matter. I just started playing a lot freer and better.
Q. Last year you stunned a lot of people when you won The Heritage Bank tournament. What if the tournament director came to you and said you would beat a Grand Slam finalist at the US Open?
CICI BELLIS: I don’t know. I mean, last year I had a great year. But compared to this, it was nothing.
Q. The girls 18s is no shabby achievement. What was that like?
CICI BELLIS: I think it was a really great experience to play that, then come here and play. Those girls in the girls 18s, they’re not that far off from these pros. It’s crazy to say, but they’re really good.
Q. Your first time playing the French Open and Wimbledon this year, really getting a taste of the Grand Slams, how different is the US Open from these other slams?
CICI BELLIS: Definitely the US Open, more people came out to watch. But they support American players so, so well. I love that. Just the atmosphere here, everybody coming out, it’s amazing.
Q. You won Milan. What do you remember about that? What do you think about Italians?
CICI BELLIS: I love that tournament. That was one of my favorite tournaments last year for sure. It was great. A lot of people came out to watch that, too. I love when people watch me, so…
Q. Does it feel like expectations for you personally, outside expectations, that’s already changing after this on such a big stage?
CICI BELLIS: No. I mean, I’m just going to keep playing my game and not really think about this last match and keep going in the tournament, play as well as I can.
Q. You seem very extroverted, good at answering questions. Have you ever been shy? What is your weakness as a character?
CICI BELLIS: I haven’t ever thought about that. Huh? When I did interviews when I was younger, I always got really nervous. Now I’m a lot better at them, so…
Q. The whole idea of winning, belief, can you describe how it evolved for you today, the notion of beating the No. 12 seed in this tournament?
CICI BELLIS: Yeah, I mean, believing was the number one thing that I had to do today. That’s what my coach told me before the match also. Just go out there and believe that you can win. I mean, if you play well, you can if you believe in it. If you don’t believe, there’s one option. If you do believe, there’s two options. You can either believe and lose or believe and win, but if you don’t believe you’re going to lose anyway.
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