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Bellis takes another important step in her tennis journey

 

Atherton resident CiCi Bellis took her final bow from this year's Bank of the West Classic after losing in doubles, with partner Jacqueline Cako, to the second-seeded pair of Anabel Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santtonja, 6-4, 7-6 (4), on Tuesday afternoon. The popular 16-year-old will most certainly be asked to return.

A year after showcasing her talent to the tennis world at the US Open, Bellis played her doubles match in front of a large audience on the back courts of the Taube Family Tennis Stadium and no one left disappointed. It's the kind of thing that grabs the attention of tennis officials who look for players that can sustain interest.

Bellis fits the profile. She created a sensation by beating then-No. 13 Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of last September's US Open and fans continue to follow her. She's been asked to attend tournament functions and willingly accepts. Bellis extended her fan base Monday night, participating in an autograph session at Stanford. She also held an autograph session when she competed in Miami, where she played Serena Williams.

"I love doing stuff like that," Bellis said.

Bellis, still a couple of years away from deciding between college and a professional career, seems to understand the process and appears patient enough to allow herself plenty of room for growth a a person and a tennis player. She's fine developing at her own pace.

"It was a great experience for me," Bellis said. "Even playing doubles with so many people coming out and supporting me. It was fun. This is obviously a harder level than I've played against. I can take what I did right and what I did wrong and keep improving. It was definitely encouraging."

Bellis is debating whether to play in a Challenger event in Vancouver, but there's no secret about her desire to return to New York.

"I have applied for a wild card for the US Open and if I don't get it, there's qualifying," she said. "Doubles too."

Her continued popularity makes her a good possibility to get a second chance at the main draw in the final Grand Slam of the season.

"I played the juniors there the previous year," Bellis said. "I have spent so much time there that I feel like I know every court there, even if I've only played on three."

Bellis appreciates her experience at last year's US Open but doesn't dwell on it. That's a sign of a mature athlete, one who stays focused on the big picture and doesn't necessarily make any one tournament more than it is.

"I don't think back on it very much," Bellis said. "It started my whole 'pro' career but I've tried to move on from that. It was a good jumping off point for me."

Angelique Kerber remembers fondly her time at Stanford last year, when she reached the final.

She drew on that experience Tuesday night in beating Russia's Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 6-3 in the first round of the $731,000 Bank of the West Classic.

"I played a lot of good matches," Kerber said. "I actually like it a little bit faster."

Without world No. 1 Serena Williams, who withdrew from the tournament because of an elbow injury, Kerber may get to create even more good memories.

Eighth-seeded Elina Svitolina, who reached the quarterfinals of the French Open, needed three sets to beat qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko.

"It was a good match and I played solid," Svitolina said. "It's always good to win those tough matches."

The 20th-ranked Svitolina plays Stanford grad Nicole Gibbs in the late match Wednesday night. Gibbs beat Caroline Garcia in straight sets on Monday.

Qualifier and No. 173 Kimiko Date-Krumm, the oldest player on the tour at age 44, upset 24th ranked Sabine Lisicki, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

In other matches, American Varvara Lepchenko topped Croatia's Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(4); fellow Croatian Ana Konjuh downed China's Saisai Zheng, 6-3, 6-4; and Ajla Tomljanovic defeated Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, 3-6, 6-0, 6-0, and next meets seventh-seeded American Madison Keys.

Elsewhere in doubles play, Gabriela Dabrowski and Alicja Rosolska edged Aleksandra Krunic and Andrea Petkovic, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 12-10 and Yi-Fan Xu and Saisai Zheng squeaked past Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 6-4, 3-6, 10-4.

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