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15-year-old CiCi Bellis loses in second round

CiCi Bellis looks on during her second-round women's

CiCi Bellis looks on during her second-round women's singles match against Zarina Diyas on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 at the U.S. Open. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Her name is Bellis. It rhymes with Seles. And having raised the topic of tennis prodigies, CiCi Bellis pulled an overflow crowd and television's bright lights to her second-round U.S. Open match on cozy Court 17 Thursday night.

The 15-year-old Bellis, who on Tuesday became the youngest to win an Open match since 1996, lost a shoot-from-the-hip skirmish to 48th-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, 3-6, 6-0, 2-6, while the sport's insiders ruminated on what greatness may reside in Bellis' future.

By the second game of the second set, the fray was fully joined through two grinding games that required 32 points, and Bellis reversed momentum with the shutout set. But early in the third, her double fault on break point sent Diyas ahead 2-1. Diyas won a rollicking up-and-back, side-to-side point toward holding serve to 3-1 and began to wear down Bellis with persistent groundstrokes.

The plan, Bellis said, was to "just go out and have fun and do the best that you can, and that's what I did. So it's good. I'm here to play the juniors. So just move on.''

But she acknowledged the talk of being "the future of American tennis; that's what I've wanted since I was a little kid, so it makes me want to work hard and try to become that.''

So: Might Bellis be another Monica Seles, who rolled into the French Open semifinals at 15 in her Grand Slam debut and went on to win nine major tournaments? Might Bellis at least have three major titles awaiting her, equaling Jennifer Capriati, who was 14 when she won her first Open match in 1990?

Russia's Anna Kournikova, also 15, was the last so young to win at the Open, in 1996. Might Kournikova's fate -- she never won a tournament on the women's tour -- be Bellis' destiny?

For now, Bellis' upset of No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia on Tuesday, a lightning strike from a clear blue sky, has made her an attention magnet.

Bellis was in the Open's main draw via a wild card by virtue of last month's national junior title. And, though the world's No. 2 junior player, she did not appear to be on the menu for tennis celebrity at this year's tournament.

Yet several hundred stood in long lines for hours trying to get into Court 17 (capacity 1,463) while earlier matches played out there. Most never got inside for the 8 p.m. start, and hundreds more watched on outside video screens. Inside, fans chanted "Here we go, CiCi, here we go!'' during changeovers, while Bellis couldn't stifle a smile.

"Unbelievable. Mind-blowing,'' Bellis said. "The best couple of days of my life.''

Diyas, meanwhile, is not exactly a late bloomer. At 20, she has rocketed 148 places in the rankings in the past year and was playing in her fourth Grand Slam tournament and eighth Slam match.

At 16, Diyas beat then-No. 7 Jelena Jankovic, and this summer she stormed into the fourth round at Wimbledon, losing to then-No. 3 Simona Halep. She is the second-ranked player in the Asia-Pacific region.

So: To be continued . . .

New York Sports