"Who the hell is this CiCi Bellis?" I kept asking myself. Everywhere I looked I saw her name and age, 15, and the words prodigy and future star somewhere in the next sentence or two. So this morning I decided to look her up and see just what recommends her to tennis stardom in the near future.
The closest I found was this glowing article by someone named Ashlee Vance from August of last year for Bloomberg Business.
Silicon Valley is hardly wanting for prodigies, but until Tuesday it hadn’t produced one on the tennis court. Enter Catherine “CiCi” Bellis, who beat 12-seeded Dominika Cibulkova at the U.S. Open. The win was remarkable because Bellis is only 15 years old and was playing in her first Grand Slam match. The most recent 15-year-old to pull off such a feat was Anna Kournikova—back in 1996, three years before Bellis was born.
In some respects, Bellis’s success shouldn’t be all that surprising. Where the Williams sisters defied the odds by rising up from the mean streets of Compton, Calif., to become superstars, Bellis comes from a privileged background far more conducive to tennis development. She grew up in Atherton, Calif.— the elite among elite suburbs in Silicon Valley. Gordon Bellis, the youngster’s dad, made enough as an investment manager to supply his daughter with a backyard tennis court while wife Lori home-schooled CiCi.
Even by tennis’s hoity-toity standards, these were luxe surroundings. The only comparable situation would be the case of Ernests Gulbis, the mercurial Latvian player on the men’s tour and son of Ainārs Gulbis, a super-rich investment banker.
Given the track record of other out-of-nowhere Valley startups, it would be unwise to bet against her.
Notice the tennis names Mr Vance mentions. If those don't set off warning bells for Vance they do for hard core tennis fans. Neither Kournikova or Gulbis lived up to their potentials. But of course this girl - she is a girl - is going to be a success because SILICON VALLEY!!!
Well young Ms Bellis got her ass handed to her yesterday by the world #1 Serena Williams. Can I say that Serena let the girl win two games? The 6-1, 6-1 score is deceiving. It really wasn't that close.
I wonder though what sport other than tennis would allow a fifteen year old girl face the best player of this generation? In what sport would the hype machine try to spin it that the kid had a chance. I mean would it have been fair to let a college freshman go one on one with Michael Jordan back in the day? No you say? Then why build this girl up as the second coming because she beat Dominika Cibulkova and has had a decent ITF career so far. No offense meant to Dominika but Serena is several levels above Cibulkova and in my opinion it does more harm than good to expose someone this young to the juggernaut that is Serena Williams. As I said earlier this year exposing young players, male or female, to the rigors of the main tour before they're physically and mentally ready is not a good thing. It can lead to regression and self doubt. Tell me how many players have made the successful jump from the Juniors to the main tour? Look at the kid I'm following this year, Alexander Zverev. Poor guy is not doing well at all at the moment although he is playing Qualies something I think is a good thing.
Why isn't the hype machine talking about Chung Hyeon from South Korea? At 6' tall he doesn't have to worry about a height disadvantage. He's very mobile and very fast and can make shots from anywhere on the court. The hype machine may not be on his case but the tennis cognoscenti are. I mean when you hear the likes of Robbie Koenig and Jason Goodall falling over themselves to describe the potential of this young man you know that away from the ever vigilant (sarcasm alert) tennis "press" the people who matter are already paying attention to him. Oh but wait. He's from South Korea. His team is composed of Koreans. His English is very limited something we know drives the US tennis establishment up the wall. So he can't be publicized because he's too foreign. Better young Bellis who comes from a background the US tennis establishment understands and who can communicate with them without an interpreter.
I've been told by @Tonicate that the correct Romanization of the young Korean's name is "Jeong" but that the pronunciation sounds more like "Chung". Since he's using "Chung" I'll use it too. However it's spelled keep your eyes on him. I think he's going to be a good one.
via his Twitter profile
Borna Ćorić is another youngster with an outsize personality, a cockiness if you will, that Australian, British and US tennis people like. He's had to dial back his "best of his generation" quote and seems to be progressing, building a career. To my knowledge his English is limited too but with his buzz cut and personal charm I guess he's more approachable for the Westerners who have just stopped their pronouncements about Eastern Europeans dragging themselves out of their hovels to play tennis. Just stopped.
So Madison Keys. If you saw her complete breakdown towards the end of her match against Sloane Stephens you saw a player unable to handle the pressures she's under. After her run in Australia everyone was saying she was the next big thing, the American poised to succeed Serena, the one who should obliterate anyone across the net from her when she played. I think it was a mistake for her not to play anywhere until the IW/Miami swing. You have to learn to win and lose before you step on the big stages of tennis. Yes they said she was injured but did she play either of the warm up tournaments in Mexico at least? No.
This focus on the Slams and since we're talking WTA Premier Mandatory events is wrong and puts more pressure on young players no matter where they come from. You build a tennis career just like you construct a point. Everything can't be an "ace". You can't "servebot" your way through life and you can't do it with a tennis career. Make these young people play. Let them learn that taking the court, win or lose, is how you deal with life.
I have to mention that for many African American tennis fans Keys unfortunate comments about not identifying as African American have made her someone to root against. Keys is what 19? She's from a wealthy background and as many mixed race people do she's struggling with her identity. Should her parents have done more to tell how how the world sees her? It's easy for people hiding behind computers to say "yes they should have" but not being part of that family and it's dynamic the only thing outsiders can do is "don't judge". She may always struggle with her identity. We're all on this plane to learn so I say leave her alone about that for now. It was a mistake by her handlers to let that statement go in that interview but I'm betting they're unaware, and to be honest really don't care what people of color think or feel when they hear statements like that.
The way Keys was sobbing, bawling if you will, on the sidelines in the second set all of these issues are getting to her. I like the way Jonathan Leach handled the awkward situation. Men confronted with crying women usually lose it. He whispered directly into her ear so that the mic wouldn't pick up what he was saying. That was a good move on his part and Madison did settle down after that and win a couple of games to avoid being fed a bakery product. I still think she should play some International level events. Let her construct her career. With tennis careers extending into what used to be considered the golden years of tennis she's got enough time to get it together.
As for the woman who defeated Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, I think she realizes that Nick Saviano is her last chance to be relevant in tennis. At least I hope she does. I think she's afraid of him, and that's a good thing for someone with her personality. She had more to prove versus Madison and she played like it. She's still playing. Unseeded. Let's see how she handles herself.
I haven't mentioned much about US young men. There's not much to say. Too short. Lousy games. Unable to think their way through a point let alone a match. Yes Donald Young is playing better tennis but he's hardly a newbie. Ryan Harrison is also trying now. No temper tantrums so far. But neither of them are new jacks. The true new jacks like Francis Tiafoe are doing the right thing and playing Challengers. Some folks out there get it.
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