Sunday, October 25, 2020

Bellis ends title drought as teen retires with leg cramps

CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco Bay Area product, won her first title
in four years today. She missed 19 months in 2018-19 while undergoing four
operations. 2017 photo by Mal Taam 
   It doesn't get much more ironic than this.
   CiCi Bellis, who sat out for 19 months in 2018-19 while undergoing four operations, won her first title in four years today after her last two opponents broke down physically.
   Sixth-seeded Marta Kostyuk, 18, of Ukraine retired with leg cramps in the opening game of the third set in the final of the $80,000 Mercer Tennis Classic on hardcourts in Macon, Ga.
   Bellis, a 21-year-old wild card who was born in San Francisco and grew up down the peninsula in Atherton, won the first set 6-4, and Kostyuk took the second set 7-6 (4) in the first USTA Pro Circuit tournament after the long COVID-19 break,.
   In Saturday's semifinals, Bellis led 6-3, 1-0 when Varvara Lepchenko, a 34-year-old American qualifier from Uzbekistan, quit with an upper leg injury.
   Lepchenko, who reached No. 19 in the world in 2012, was coming off a 3-hour, 15-minute victory over unseeded Sachia (pronounced SAH-shuh) Vickery in the quarterfinals and ousted second-seeded Nina Stojanovic in the first round in 3 hours, 33 minutes. 
   Neither Bellis, now based at the USTA National Campus near Orlando, Fla., nor Kostyuk, who reached the third round of the recent French Open and won a $60,000 hardcourt tournament in Cairo in Feburary, had lost a set entering their first career meeting. Kostyuk, in fact, hadn't dropped more than five games in a match. She routed top-seeded Misaki Doi 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals after Doi had survived a 3-hour, 9-minute battle in the second round. 
   But Bellis and Kostyuk traded laser-like groundstrokes for 2 hours, 23 minutes in cloudy 75-degree (23.9 Celsius) weather and 68 percent humidity.
   After slugging a down-the-line backhand winner for deuce on Bellis' serve in the first game of the third set, Kostyk collapsed with a cramp above her left knee. She was briefly treated on the court by a trainer, and the cramp subsided.
   Kostyuk tried to continue, but on the next point, she sprawled on the court with a cramp in her right leg. Lying on the court and sobbing, Kostyuk retired.
   The right-handed Bellis, who had three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow, claimed her first title since a $125,000 tournament in Honolulu in November 2016. Playing strictly at the top level of women's tennis, she reached a career-high No. 35 at age 18 in 2017 and was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year before arm trouble forced her off the tour in March 2018. Bellis finally returned last November and reached the third round of the Australian Open in January.
   Bellis collected $12,192, a paltry amount for her. More importantly, she will jump 31 places to No. 142 in Monday's new rankings. Kostyuk, who earned $6,518, will improve eight spots to No. 105.
   Fans can be forgiven if they confused the finalists. In addition to being young, hard-hitting baseliners, both wore forest-green Nike dresses and white visors. Kostyuk was the one with blonde hair tied in a bun, four earrings in her left ear and black kinesiotape on her right shoulder. 
   The first set featured four consecutive service breaks and seven in the first nine games. Bellis held at 15 for the set when Kostyuk netted a cross-court forehand.
   Kostyuk led 5-2 in the second set, but Bellis reeled off four straight games to serve for the championship. She was two points from the title at 30-30 but slugged a down-the-line backhand wide and was broken on Kostyuk's forehand cross-court winner.
   Bellis led 2-0 in the tiebreaker but then uncharacteristically committed six unforced errors to drop the set. Serving to open the third set, she fought back from 15-20 to deuce, and it appeared the players were headed for another grueling set. Three points later, however, the match abruptly ended.
   ATP Tour — Unseeded Raven Klaasen and Ben McLachlan (University of California, Berkeley, 2011-14), playing in their first tournament together, stunned third-seeded Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, Germans who have won the last two French Opens, 6-2, 6-4 to win the title in Cologne, Germany.
   Klaasen, a 38-year-old South African, and McLachlan, a 28-year-old New Zealand native who plays for his mother's home country of Japan, did not lose a set in their four matches.
   Klaasen won his 17th ATP doubles title and McLachlan his sixth.

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