Monday, August 31, 2020

Bellis battles back as bizarre U.S. Open begins

CiCi Bellis returned to the U.S. Open for the first time since 2017 and earned
her first victory at Flushing Meadows since 2016. File photo by Mal Taam

No fans, no defending champions and no Roger Federer.

Otherwise, it's a typical U.S. Open.

The first round began today at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., with no fans permitted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rafael Nadal, last year's champion, and five of the top seven women in the rankings, including 2019 champ Bianca Andreescu, chose not to play due to coronavirus concerns.

Federer is recovering from two knee operations, making this the first Grand Slam tournament of the 21st century without both men's icons.

Benoit Paire of France tested positive for the coronavirus and was removed from the draw.

But CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old wild card who was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, returned to the U.S. Open for the first time since 2017 and earned her first victory at Flushing Meadows since 2016. She defeated Tamara Korpatsch, a 25-year-old German, 6-7 (13), 6-3, 6-2 in their first meeting. 

Bellis underwent three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow in 2018-19. She first made headlines by shocking 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open at 15.

Bellis is scheduled to meet 38th-seeded Jennifer Brady, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Anna Blinkova of Russia, on Wednesday. Brady won the Redding (Calif.) Challenger at 19 in 2014 and captured her first WTA title three weeks ago in Lexington, Ky.

Bellis beat Brady 7-6 (2), 7-5 in the first round of qualifying in Sydney in January 2018 in their only previous meeting.

Earlier today, 31st-seeded Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia eliminated 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Gauff, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open in January, committed 13 double faults in her second consecutive first-round loss and earliest exit from a Grand Slam tournament.

Sevastova, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2018 and quarterfinalist the two previous years, had been 1-8 this year. Her only victory was over — go figure — Serena Williams, 7-6 in the third set, in the Fed Cup in February.

Top-seeded Karolina Pliskova, the runner-up to Angelique Kerber in the 2016 U.S. Open and 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, beat Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina, who won the 2015 Sacramento Challenger, 6-4, 6-0. Pliskova, ranked third, reeled off the last eight games.

On the men's side, fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany topped 34-year-old Kevin Anderson, the U.S. Open runner-up three years ago, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. The 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, who underwent knee surgery in February, pounded 20 aces, and the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Zverev had 18.

Cameron Norrie, who won the 2017 Tiburon and Stockton Challengers in Northern California in consecutive weeks, outlasted ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist in two of the past three years, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 in 3 hours, 59 minutes. 

Norrie, a 25-year-old left-hander, won the last four games, saving two match points. He was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand and plays for Great Britain.

Steve Johnson, who won last year's Aptos (Calif.) Challenger, defeated Davis Cup teammate John Isner for the fifth consecutive time, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (3) in 3 hours, 50 minutes.

The 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) Isner, seeded 16th, ripped 52 aces, and the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Johnson had 22. Johnson never lost his serve and broke Isner's twice.

Seventh-seeded David Goffin, a 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Belgian, beat Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) American, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. 

In the first featured night match, top-ranked Novak Djokovic dismissed Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-1, 6-4, 6-1. 

Djokovic, who improved to 24-0 this year and 27-0 since November, seeks his fourth U.S. Open singles title. Dzumhur, only 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 150 pounds (68 kilograms), was seeded first in Aptos last year and reached the quarterfinals.

Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka beat Misaki Doi, a 5-foot-3 (1.59-meter) left-hander, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in an all-Japanese encounter. Osaka seems to have recovered from the hamstring injury that caused her to withdraw from the final of the Western & Southern Open at the National Tennis Center on Saturday. She did not wear a bandage.

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic and won the first of her two Grand Slam singles titles at 20 in the 2018 U.S. Open, beating Williams in a tumultuous final.

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