Atherton tennis phenom Bellis weighing a pro future - San Jose Mercury News

posted on 07 Aug 2015 05:41 by painfulovertone08
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Atherton's CiCi Bellis, 16, shown in action at the Bank of the West Classic in Palo Alto on Aug. 3, 2015. (Photo by Celso Bayo)

The moment CiCi Bellis burst onto the national spotlight at last year's U.S. Open with an upset of then-No. 13 Dominika Cibulkova, becoming the youngest player to win a match at the Grand http://texastennisopen.com Slam event since Anna Kournikova in 1995, it became a question of "when" rather than "if" the tennis prodigy from Atherton would turn pro.

That was a topic of discussion Monday at the Bank of the West Classic, which has been hosted by Stanford since 1997.

"I remember that match against Cibulkova, I watched the end," said Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, the No. 7-ranked player in the world and potential opponent for Bellis had she advanced past the first round. "But I don't really know her, so I think that would be a good challenge to play a young and very talented American. I know that she's more also into going to college as well. That is very surprising that with her potential she wanted to do something else as well."

A wild card entry making her debut at the Bank of the West Classic, a tournament she grew up watching from the stands, the 16-year-old lost her singles match 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the main draw at Taube Family Tennis Stadium. It's a court she may call home in a few years if she chooses to attend Stanford.

But would college tennis be a detriment to her development as a tennis player?

"No, not at all," Bellis said. "I mean, college is definitely still an option for me. Especially right now, being 16 still. I actually have an SAT tutor right now, so I've been working really hard on that. It just depends on where I am in a couple of years before I go there and where my ranking is and how I've been doing."

She entered the week ranked No. 157 in the world with a 14-9 record in WTA and ITF events. In her second Grand Slam appearance, Bellis was eliminated in the qualifying draw for the French Open at Roland Garros in May.

"Seeing the level there and seeing how much the girls wanted to win every single point, hit every single shot as best as they could, it was really good for me to see," Bellis said.

One WTA pro that Bellis could approach for advice is Nicole Gibbs, who won back-to-back NCAA women's singles titles as a Cardinal in 2012 and 2013. The 22-year-old turned pro after her junior year on The Farm and finished her first full year as a pro ranked No. 84 in the world.

"I think Stanford was so crucial for my development as a player," said Gibbs, who reached the main draw as a qualifier. "I went a year early, so I was still very much a scrawny high school kid. I was still 17 when I went to school, and I desperately needed those years to kind of first of all ground myself as a person, and second of all to develop as an athlete. And with the culture around here and such a great Stanford tennis family, I was really able to thrive."

Gibbs can't cite any drawbacks to her three years at Stanford and wouldn't change a thing if given the option. Under the tutelage of Stanford head coach Lele Forood and associate head coach Frankie Brenna, she learned how to grind out a tournament, how to deal with soreness and elevated the aggressiveness of her tennis.

So should Bellis follow in her path?

"It's so tough because I haven't sat and watched CiCi play extensively," Gibbs said. "I've seen obviously highlight reels from the U.S. Open, where she looked like she could be a top-20 player really quickly. But so often it doesn't work out that way for young girls. So I think it's so personal to what kind of a couple of years that she's having before she has to make that decision, and what her family feels is important.

"I really wouldn't advise one way or the other. I just think I had a great experience at Stanford, and I want as many people to share that as possible. But if she thinks she's ready to go pro, I would never tell her otherwise."

Radwanska, who turned pro at 16 and has earned more than $18 million in her 10-year career, felt more comfortable making a recommendation.

"If I were her, I would play pro, I think," Radwanska said. "That's the best timing to start. And if she played that kind of tennis, because she wanted to play great tennis, then of course when you want to play tennis you want to be a pro. And I think there's always time for college, and to be a pro later can be just too late."

Madison Keys, ranked No. 18 in the world and the top American at the Bank of the West Classic, turned pro the moment she turned 14 years old, which is the minimum age requirement to play on the WTA or ITF women's circuit.

"For me, it was different," said Keys, 20, when asked to provide advice for Bellis. "I never wanted to play college tennis. If I went to college, I wanted to do other things. I wanted to try to get in on a scholarship and just focus on studies and things like that. For me, I wanted to be a professional tennis player and if that didn't work, then I was going to try something else. So for me it was kind of an easy decision.

"I think I was lucky that I decided so early, because I think the longer that I waited the tougher it would have been to decide. But I think it's one of those things where you kind of just have to make the decision, and once you've made that decision not look back and think what if."

Time will tell what path Bellis chooses to follow. She's listed at 5-foot-6 and 110 pounds, but who knows what she will look like in a year or two as she continues to mature.

"I hope I'm still growing," Bellis said with a laugh. "I think I grew a little bit in the last week, fingers crossed."

Next up?

Bellis is considering playing at a $100,000 ITF event two weeks from now in Vancouver. She also applied for a wild card into the U.S. Open and looks forward to a return trip to Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

"Obviously going back there, it's going to bring back some really good memories," Bellis said. "And hopefully really good tennis, too."

Soon enough the tennis might be deemed good enough to turn pro.

Email Vytas Mazeika at vmazeika@dailynewsgroup.com; follow him at Twitter.com/dailynewsvytas.

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