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Bellis steps up in class to face top field in Bank of West

 

Atherton resident Catherine Cartan "CiCi" Bellis captured the attention of tennis enthusiasts everywhere with her unexpected victory over then-No. 13 Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of last year's US Open.

Since then, the 16-year-old Bellis has had mixed results on the ITF and WTA tours. One thing for sure, Bellis continues a steady climb up the rankings.

Bellis, who will be playing in the main draw of the $710,000 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, earned her highest career ranking yet this week, rising to No. 152 after reaching the quarterfinal of last week's Sacramento ITF Futures tournament.

She will be surrounded by at least 22 players ranked ahead of her at the Taube Tennis Family Center, though that's nothing new for Bellis, the reigning ITF Junior World Champion. She's already played world No. 1 Serena Williams this year, losing, 6-1, 6-1, in the Round of 32 at Miami in March.

"I was nervous when I played Serena," Bellis said. "She hits the ball hard. She's the best player of all-time."

Qualifying for the Bank of the West begins Saturday and is open to the public. The main event starts Monday, with sessions at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. through Thursday. Next Friday's quarterfinal rounds take place at noon and 7 p.m., while the semifinal rounds on Aug. 8 are at noon and 4 p.m. The championship match is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 9, at 2 p.m.

Stanford's Carol Zhao is expected to receive a wild card into the main draw while Cardinal teammates Caroline Doyle and Taylor Davidson are expected to have wild cards into this weekend's qualifying. Former Stanford All-American Nicole Gibbs also may be in qualifying.

The official draw for the tournament will be held Friday (6 p.m.) at the Stanford Shopping Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Williams, meanwhile, returns to Stanford as its defending champion. She beat Angelique Kerber, 7-6 (1), 6-3, in the finals last summer. Kerber, currently ranked No. 13, also returns to Stanford.

Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez-Navarro will not get a chance to defend their doubles title.

Muguruza, ranked No. 9 in the world, withdrew from the Classic after reaching the singles finals at Wimbledon, where she lost to Williams. The 10th-ranked Navarro plans to play at Stanford. The duo beat Paula Kania and Katerina Siniakova, 6-2, 4-6, 10-5, in last year's doubles final.

Williams has won three of the past four Bank of the West titles, with only Cibulkova's title in 2013 interrupting Serena's streak. She is, of course, on the verge of another career accomplishment, though Stanford remains a special tournament for her as this event rejuvenated her career in winning the 2011 title, ranked 169th at the time.

Williams, a certain Hall of Famer, regained her No. 1 spot early in 2013 and has yet to relinquish it. Since turning 30 in September of 2011, she's won eight of her 21 Grand Slam singles titles, including the last four majors heading into the US Open.

Williams became the fourth player in WTA history to reach 250 weeks at No. 1. With 251 total, she's nine weeks shy of matching Chris Evert for third all-time. Serena first reached No. 1 on July 8, 2002.

She's in her 128th straight week at No.1 since returning there on February 18, 2013. She spent a total of 123 weeks on top before then.

"I feel better now," she told the WTA website. "I do have some aches and pains, but overall physically I feel like I'm better. I feel like I'm more fit. I feel like I can do more than I did 10, 12, or however many years ago. I keep reinventing myself in terms of working out, in terms of my game. And it's been working."

No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki, also entered in the Bank of the West, has been ranked No. 1 a total of 67 weeks. No. 2 Maria Sharapova has spent 21 weeks at the top.

Williams plays Wednesday night, Aug. 5 during session 6 and Wozniacki makes her Stanford debut on Thursday night (Aug. 6) during session 8.

Bellis' showing in Sacramento last week was a good sign for her -- even thought she lost to Ukraine's 148th-ranked Anhelina Kalinina, who went on to win the tournament. Kalinina won her third event of the year and improved to 28-11 (84-39 career) on the year.

Bellis dropped first-round qualifying matches at Charleston and the French Open, and lost a first-round match two weeks ago in a Stockton ITF event.

Bellis has three ITF singles titles to her credit and one doubles title, with Alexis Nelson (who has verbally committed to Cal). She ended last year as the top-ranked junior tennis player and qualified for the US Open by becoming the youngest winner of the USTA girls' 18 national tournament in 23 years. She then became the youngest winner at the Open in nine years.

All that experience, winning and losing, can only help as Bellis, who accepted a wild card into the Bank of the West, moves forward with her promising career. She had earned $112,492 in her career prior to this week's first-round loss in the $50,000 Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships in Lexington, Ky. Also in the field was Stanford graduate Kristie Ahn, who also lost Tuesday.

Bellis, who is home-schooled, can keep a maximum of $10,000 per year to maintain her amateur status -- should she decide to attend college. She is currently heading into what would be her junior year of high school and has mentioned that she'd like to attend Stanford some day.

The Bank of the West Classic, meanwhile, is in its 45th year, making it the longest-running women-only tournament in the world.

The Bank of the West Classic, a Premier WTA event, features a 28-player singles draw as well as a 16-team doubles draw. The event is owned and operated by IMG and serves as the opening women's event of the Emirates Airline US Open Series.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to www.BankoftheWestClassic.com or call 866-WTA-TIXS (866-982-8497).

2015 BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC PLAYER FIELD

(As of 7/29/15)

Rank Name Country

1, Serena Williams (USA)

5, Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

7, Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)

10, Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain)

12, Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic)

13, Angelique Kerber (Germany)

16, Andrea Petkovic (Germany)

18, Madison Keys (USA)

20, Elina Svitolina (Ukraine)

23, Sabine Lisicki (Germany)

35, Caroline Garcia (France)

40, Daria Gavrilova (Russia)

45, Varvara Lepchenko (USA)

50, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (Croatia)

53, Carina Witthoeft (Germany)

58, Alison Riske (USA)

62, Mona Barthel (Germany)

65, Tatjana Maria (Germany)

69, Saisai Zheng (China)

70, Ajla Tomljanovic (Croatia)

87, Ana Konjuh (Croatia)

92, Vitalia Diatchenko (Russia)

152, CiCi Bellis (USA)

252, Carol Zhao (Canada)

TV SCHEDULE

Monday, Aug. 3

Singles first round: 11 a.m.-5 p.m and 7-11 p.m.; ESPN3

Tuesday, Aug. 4

Singles first round: 11 a.m.-5 p.m and 7-11 p.m.; ESPN3

Wednesday, Aug. 5

Singles second round: 11 a.m.-5 p.m and 7-11 p.m.; ESPN3

Thursday, Aug. 6

Singles second round: 11 a.m.-5 p.m and 7-11 p.m.; ESPN3

Friday, Aug. 7

Singles quarterfinals: noon-6 p.m and 7-9 p.m.; ESPN3

Saturday, Aug. 8

Singles semifinals: noon-2 p.m and 4-6 p.m.; ESPN2

Sunday, Aug. 9

Singles final: 2-4 p.m.; ESPN2

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