CiCi Bellis, 15, wins her Open debut

California teen Cici Bellis, 15, upset 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the U.S Open on Aug. 26, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

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For CiCi Bellis, the U.S. Open is crazy.

It pretty much would have to be for a 15-year-old who won her first match Tuesday at an age when she barely qualifies to apply for a learner's permit in California.

"Yeah, it's crazy to think that I'm actually here right now with all these other people,'' Bellis said after beating 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, Tuesday on brand-new Court 6, which was packed with supporters for the bubbly American.

"I never thought I would be practicing or sharing a court with a player I watch on TV frequently. I mean, it's crazy, but I love it.''

At 15 years, 152 days, Bellis is the youngest women's main- draw player at a Grand Slam event since Alize Cornet at the 2005 French Open, and the youngest U.S. Open player since two European women in 2004. She is the youngest to win a match at the Open since Anna Kournikova (15 years, 93 days) in 1996.

All of which seems crazy to her, yet there's nothing crazy about the career she has chosen to follow, and the success she has had this season. She got into the Open by winning the Girls 18 title in Kalamazoo, Michigan, two weeks ago, defeating Tornado Black to become the youngest winner since Lindsay Davenport in 1991. That victory earned Bellis a wild card into the Open.

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She is the world's No. 2- ranked junior player and has won several junior titles this year, including the USTA International Spring Championships and the Easter Bowl.

She's been smitten with the game since her mother, Lori, a junior and college player, introduced to her to it. According to her father, Gordon, who works for a private equity firm in San Francisco, Lori was too nervous to attend the match Tuesday, staying at the hotel and getting texts from her husband.

According to Gordon, he leaves the coaching to professionals back in the Silicon Valley area of California (their home is in Atherton) and his duties are "carrying bags and picking up balls.''

Their daughter has no difficulty expressing herself on the court, in front of an Open crowd or in the presence of the massed media. As CiCi chants welled up in the swelling crowd, the youngster embraced the moments.

"It gives more energy. I love it when people watch me,'' Bellis said. "It makes me play better.''

Her favorite player is the retired three-time U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters. "Everything about her, her confidence on the court, the way she carried herself, her game. The fact she had kids, then came back to win the U.S. Open, that's crazy.''

She will face unseeded Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan next. Bellis will be guaranteed $60,420 even if she loses that match, but she is maintaining her amateur status.

"I don't really think about it,'' she said. "I just try to focus on the tennis rather than anything else . . . like what's on the line for the match.''

To her father, "There are bigger things out there than the money. If she were to win the final [$3 million], we might have to have a different discussion.''

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