The U.S. Open's marquee matchups are scheduled in Arthur Ashe Stadium, often during the night sessions. As 15-year-old CiCi Bellis learned this week, netting the biggest upset of the first round will earn you instant fame, but it is not enough to earn a primetime billing on Ashe.
On Thursday, though, Bellis' second-round match turned into the night's main event. She and Zarina Diyas played on Court 17, a stadium smaller than Ashe, Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand stadiums, but larger than the general outer courts. By the time they took the court, Andy Murray was already in his second set on Ashe. Day session fans stuck around, packing the stands and forming a line that wrapped all the way into the food court. Some had been reserving seats since 10 a.m.
And so it was that the first-round's Cinderella got a taste of what it's like to play under the lights for a rowdy New York crowd and a slew of media. Wearing a necklace that a friend recently gave her as a good luck charm, Bellis took the court to a chorus of camera shutters. Based on the number of photographers clicking away, one had to wonder if anyone was covering the Murray match.
Bellis fought for every point, repeatedly surviving two or three break points to hold serve each game, or forcing several before breaking Diyas. She converted five of eight break points in the loss, while Diyas converted five of 16. The fans roared after every point the American won. Some yelled out, "Go Catherine!" a clear giveaway that the girl who goes by "CiCi" is not yet a household name.
Diyas took the first set 6-3, but Bellis came storming back. She won seven straight games, taking the second set 6-0 and the first game of the third set. Bellis often reacted to the crowd, smiling as they chanted "Let's go CiCi" over and over. She showed her athleticism as she covered the baseline and won close shots at the net.
After going up 1-0 in the third set, though, Bellis dropped five games in a row. She took two back to get to 5-2, and held off match point twice, but that was the end of the road. The final score was 3-6, 6-0, 2-6.
It's been an impressive run for Diyas, who is also playing in her first U.S. Open. The 20-year-old from Kazakhstan will look to match her Wimbledon result, where she made it to the fourth round. To get there, she'll have to get past 17th seed Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.
Twelve American women came into the second round. With Bellis out, the tally is down to four. No more than three will advance beyond the third round, as, for the third time in this tournament, Serena Williams takes on a fellow American.
Bellis lost the match on Thursday, but certainly not the week. "I think just playing my first U.S. Open and just having that under my belt, then it will be easier the next time I play," she said afterward.
Reflecting on the last 48 hours, she used the words "different," "unbelievable" and "mind-blowing."
"It's been like the best couple days of my life," she said. "I loved it."
There won't be much time to revel in the memories, though. Now, it's time to shift her focus to the U.S. Open Junior Championships, which start next week.
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