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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, February 14, 2018

 
CiCi Bellis

In an all-American clash, CiCi Bellis won nine of the last 10 games racing past Madison Keys, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, into the Qatar Total Open round of 16.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Growing up in northern California, CiCi Bellis spent winter weekends on the ski slopes.

The 18-year-old qualifier continues to turn the desert into a determined downhill run.

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In an all-American clash on the cozy confines of court 2, Bellis burst through 10 of the final 11 games defusing US Open finalist Madison Keys, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, in racing into the Doha round of 16.

The pair have practiced together at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida giving Bellis a clear preview picture ahead of their first pro meeting today.

"I just tried to stay positive all the time," Bellis told beIn Sports afterward. "I knew I would have to kind of weather the storm. She’s a huge hitter so I knew I’d have to track a lot of balls down.

"I don’t think she was playing her best tennis today. It was pretty windy outside definitely tough conditions. I was just happy to play really well and get through it."

It was Bellis’ fourth consecutive win, including a pair of qualifying victories when she won 24 of 28 games to reach the main draw.

The 48th-ranked Bellis, who also played through qualifying to reach the round of 16 in Sydney last month, scored her third victory over a Top 25 opponent this season and made it look easy in the climactic set.

Wearing identical pale pink Nike outfits and matching visors, the pair squared off for the first time in a match that revealed a bit about both of their strengths and weaknesses.

When Keys is confident and finding the sweet spot, shots stream from her Wilson racquet like all the right answers on a test. But when she’s stretched and can’t get her body behind the ball, it can be a struggle for Keys to control her powerful drives.

In contrast, Bellis played points with more thought and care, sliding some low slice backhands to disrupt her 14th-ranked opponent’s rhythm and prevent Keys from controlling the center of the court.

Ultimately, Keys couldn’t put enough balls in court at crunch time and a savvy Bellis actively encouraged the implosion.

It was really a tale of two different matches. Keys crushed the younger American’s serve breaking three times in romping through the first set in 25 minutes.

Showing more nuance in her shots, Bellis began mixing depth and angle and served with more ambition building a 5-2 second-set lead. Keys saved a set point holding for 3-5.

On her second set point, Bellis drew the error snatching the second set with her sixth straight hold and a clenched fist.

Serving with more sting, Bellis did not face a break point in the 33-minute second set.

Bellis cites the weekly phone call she has with Hall of Famer and WTA mentor Chrissie Evert with helping her adjust to the pro circuit, played the score more shrewdly than former Evert Academy player Keys.

Struggling to regain her range, Keys couldn’t consistenly find the court. The US Open finalist bashed a backhand into the middle of the net gifting the break to open the decider.

Exploiting the erratic extent of Keys’ misfires, Bellis kept the ball moving side-to-side draining a cluster of unruly errors to back up the break—stretching her streak to six of the last seven games.

Mixing in the slice backhand, Bellis kept the ball out of her explosive opponent’s strike zone drawing another error for the double break and a 3-0 third-set lead.

Madison Keys
Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Trying to stall her slide, Keys took a coaching consultation on the ensuing changeover.

It didn’t alter the narrative.

Bouncing on her toes like a sprinter before a race, Bellis breezed through a love hold. She had reeled off 10 consecutive points going up love-30 in the fifth game.

When a listless Keys shoveled a backhand into the middle of the net, Bellis broke again taking her ninth of the last 10 games.

Keys erased three match points, but Bellis kept calm and closed when Keys sprayed one final backhand.

Bellis will play either another US Open finalist, fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, or AlizĂ© Cornet for a place in the quarterfinals. 


 

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