Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Bellis to make BNP Paribas Open debut vs. Flipkens

CiCi Bellis, shown last July, is coming off a quarterfinal
appearance in Dubai, where she stunned No. 6 Agnieszka
Radwanska for her first career win over a top-10 player.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   CiCi Bellis is scheduled to make her debut in the BNP Paribas Open, considered the "fifth" Grand Slam, this week against Kirsten Flipkens.
   The women's draw for the Indian Wells tournament was held Monday, and the first round begins Wednesday at 11 a.m. PST (Tennis Channel).
   Bellis, a 17-year-old product of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Flipkens, a 31-year-old Belgian, will meet for the first time.
   Bellis, ranked No. 55, is by far the youngest player in the top 100. She will turn 18 on April 8. Next is No. 33 Ana Konjuh, a Croat who's 15 months older.
   Bellis is coming off a quarterfinal appearance in Dubai, where she stunned No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska for her first victory over a top-10 player.
   Flipkens is ranked No. 87 after climbing to a career-high No. 13 in 2013. She reached the Wimbledon semifinals that year and ousted Venus Williams in the first round of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last August en route to the third round.
   The winner of the Bellis-Flipkens match will take on seventh-seeded Garbine Muguruza, the reigning French Open champion. All 32 seeds at Indian Wells receive first-round byes.
   Meanwhile, the pressure is on U.S. wild card Nicole Gibbs (Stanford, 2011-13). Ranked No. 94, she will continue to fall if she doesn't at least match her fourth-round showing as a qualifier at Indian Wells last year.
   Good luck with that. Gibbs will play Heather Watson of Great Britain in the first round, and the winner will face 11th-seeded Johanna Konta, a British citizen born in Australia.
   Gibbs and Watson have many similarities despite their different nationalities. Both are 24. Both are undersized -- Gibbs is 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), and Watson is 5-foot-7 (1.70). Watson is ranked No. 108 and also has reached the fourth round at Indian Wells, having upset Radwanska in the third round in 2015.
   Furthermore, Watson has a Stanford connection. She teamed with Marina Erakovic of New Zealand for the doubles title in the 2012 Bank of the West Classic on Gibbs' home courts at the time.
Nicole Gibbs eyes a backhand during her fourth-round loss to
Petra Kvitova in last year's BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   In fact, Gibbs and Watson played doubles together in last year's French Open, losing in the first round to Germans Sabine Lisicki and Andrea Petkovic.
   Watson, though, has made her biggest news at Wimbledon. She twice came within two points of stunning Serena Williams in the third round in 2015 before falling 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. Watson led 3-0 (two service breaks) in the third set and served for the match at 5-4, but Williams rallied and went on to win her sixth Wimbledon crown. Williams made it seven last year.
   Watson also won last year's Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Henri Kontinen of Finland.
   Gibbs and Watson have split two career matches. Gibbs won 7-5, 6-2 in the first round at Seoul in 2014 on a hardcourt similar to those at Indian Wells, and Watson triumphed 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 in the opening round of last year's French Open.
   Women's qualifying for the BNP Paribas Open began Monday. Wild card Maria Sanchez, a Modesto product, lost to 13th-seeded Mona Barthel of Germany 6-2, 7-5.
   Dennis Novikov, a 23-year-old resident of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area, faces a tough assignment today in the opening round of men's qualifying. He will face second-seeded Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.
   Istomin shocked two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Australian Open en route to the fourth round in January.
   The men's drawfor the BNP Paribas Open will be held today, and the first round begins Thursday.

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