In a gripping battle between two competitors with a combined age of 35, Zarina Diyas advanced past the second round of the 2014 U.S. Open with a closely contested victory over fan favorite Catherine "CiCi" Bellis on Thursday.
Bellis stunned the world on Wednesday by beating No. 13-ranked Dominika Cibulkova in a colossal first-round upset. All eyes turned to the 15-year-old's next challenge, with interest running so high that ESPN2 switched to the match during Andy Murray's foray.
Yet it was Diyas, the No. 48-ranked 20-year-old from Kazakhstan, who lives to fight another day in the year's final Grand Slam tournament. She'll face No. 17 Ekaterina Makarova in the third round after winning by a score of 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.
Neither participant could have imagined selling out a New York crowd, but fans came in droves to watch the teenager in Flushing Meadows, as depicted by Nick McCarvel.
Fans had to wait awhile for Tommy Robredo and Simone Bolelli to finish a five-set marathon, which placed Bellis' curfew in grave jeopardy. Once they began, Diyas jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on Court 17 during the opening set, but Bellis settled down to even the opening set at three games apiece.
From there, Diyas started to break away, taking the next three games and the opening set. Yet the U.S. Open's young participant would not relent, jumping out to a lead to begin the next set.
After tugging for control of the second game, Diyas finally slipped up with a point-deciding error. They again fought neck and neck during the fourth game, finishing with the same result.
With a partisan crowd firmly in her corner, an increasingly confident Bellis gained steam throughout the action-packed second set. She swept all six games to set up a match-deciding third set. But as The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg noted, the second set was competitive considering the lopsided score.
Courtesy of USOpen.org, we can see Bellis' stark improvement from the opening set to the second. During the opening set, she won just 13 out of 29 receiving points. During the second set, that mark increased to 24 of 41. After making 22 unforced errors to start, she slashed the number to 13.
Bellis extended the set winning streak to seven before Diyas responded, picking up a string of three games to the chagrin of the packed crowd in Queens. Once again, the match had turned—this time back to Diyas' favor.
While a careful Diyas committed seven unforced errors during the final set, Bellis slipped up 19 times. The newcomer won six receiving points to Diyas' 17.
Even though she fell short, Bellis put her name on the map before ending her summer break away from high school. This indelible experience will serve the junior star well going forward. Grantland's Brian Phillips was particularly impressed with one facet of her game.
She's still a 15-year-old who won a Grand Slam match, which nobody can take away despite her second-round loss. The gravitas of winning a U.S. Open match was not lost on Bellis, who watched as the stars she previously admired from afar quickly became her adversaries.
"It's crazy to think I'm actually here right now with all these other people," Bellis told ESPNW.com's Melissa Isaacson. "I mean, I never thought I would be practicing or sharing a court with, you know, a player I watch on TV. I mean, it's crazy. But I love it."