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CiCi Bellis Has Become Unlikeliest of Stars at US Open

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 26:  Catherine Bellis of the United States celebrates after defeating Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia during their women's singles first round match on Day Two of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 26, 2014  in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2014

Move over Mo'ne Davis, there's a new girl in town. 

CiCi Bellis is a few years older than Davis, of course. She plays a different sport, too, and not against boys. But the youngster absolutely set the U.S. Open on fire on Tuesday when she upset Dominika Cibulkova in the first round.

That not only meant that Bellis—who is 15 years old—became the youngest player to win a match at this tournament since 1996, it also meant she had just disposed of the No. 12 seed in the tournament and a former finalist at the U.S. Open. 

That's a good day at the office for anyone, let alone a teenager. Even Bellis was surprised by the result, as she told Brian Lewis of the New York Post after the match:

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. 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. Words can’t describe it right now.

Let's not brush past just how improbable this win was. You could make a strong argument it was even more shocking than Lukas Rosol defeating Rafael Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon in 2012. Rosol was 26, however—11 years older than Bellis

Bellis exceeded expectations just by qualifying for the tournament, after all, turning heads when she beat Tornado Black at the USTA Girls' 18s national championship. She's a talented and accomplished player, of course, but nobody would have been asking where she was if she didn't appear in the U.S. Open at all, either.

In so many ways, Bellis' victory was indicative of just how unpredictable women's tennis is at the moment. Five different women have won the last five Grand Slams, and we haven't seen a repeat winner since Serena Williams won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2012.

So while Bellis is the unlikeliest of stars at this year's tournament, we shouldn't be terribly surprised that a contender like Cibulkova dropped out of the running in the opening round. At this point in the women's game, it's a safe bet to expect the unexpected.

Bellis, however, will no longer be the unexpected now. She's a household name. 

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 26:  Catherine Bellis (R) of the United States walks to the net after defeating Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia during their women's singles first round match on Day Two of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It's truly been the summer of the girls. Davis was spectacular for the team from Philadelphia that reached the Little League World Series, striking out countless batters with her 70 MPH fastball and earning fans left and right with her poise and composure. 

She wasn't the only girl to crash the Williamsport party, as Emma March was a regular contributor for Canada's team. And now Bellis has proven that she can compete at the highest level on the WTA Tour. 

Really, the only bad thing that may have happened to Bellis was that she didn't actually earn what she could have for the win, per Darren Rovell of ESPN:

But hey, she has plenty of time to make that money back, right?

Indeed, it would appear she has a very bright future ahead of her. The next step will be handling the pressure now that all eyes will be on her when she faces Zarina Diyas in Round 2. She's not catching anyone off guard now, after all. 

But for at least one day, she did capture the hearts and minds of the tennis world. And nobody saw that coming.


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