Hawaii Open Commit CiCi Bellis advances to 3rd Round at U.S. Open

It did not matter that she lost in the third round. The thrill was the same as when she won a match here in the main draw at age 15 two years ago, according to her father, Gordon.

The busier the better for the 158th-ranked American, who feasted on the New York buzz once again Wednesday, rallying against 49th-ranked American and French Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers in their second-round match, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

“I think it puts me in a different world,” Bellis said of the connection she feels with fans. “I feel like I’m not even here. … It’s surreal to me. But it’s so amazing.”

CiCi Bellis will need all the support she can get in her next match, where No. 2 Angelique Kerber awaits.

After advancing to the third round, where she will play No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber, Bellis revealed that a group of young male fans — “I think they’re from Rhode Island” — who have followed her since the first of three qualifying matches here last week had a special request.

“One of them messaged me on Instagram and asked for tickets, and so I got them into my box today,” she said of the group that calls itself Team CiCi.

“I guess we’re getting closer. They’re a great group.”

Bellis and Rogers entered the new Grandstand Stadium court with the crowd still amped up from watching 120th-ranked American Ryan Harrison upset No. 5 seed Milos Raonic.

But Bellis started slow and, after dropping the first set to Rogers, told herself she needed to move her feet better. “Getting pumped up” is how she described it, while attributing her energy to her growing legion of fans.

“When I get them involved — I mean, the turning point of the match [was] when I started winning a couple points, started stringing a few together, got them involved — that just kept pumping me up even more and made me play better,” Bellis said.

Gordon Bellis said he thanked tournament organizers for putting his daughter on Court 6 for her first-round match against Viktorija Golubic, the same small outside court on which she upset 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in 2014.

“I said if it was serendipity, then that was the best court ever to start the first round on,” Gordon said.

And now CiCi has a new career highlight.

“It means so much more to me [than 2014],” Bellis said. “Getting through [these] two rounds was really, really big.”

Rogers, who had an extended timeout down 4-1 in the second set to have her right elbow examined and taped, called it “a little bad luck.” She said Bellis was simply more aggressive.

“I think she plays her best match every time she’s on the court,” Rogers said. “She has no pressure; she’s swinging for the fences; she genuinely loves the sport. And she has a blast when she’s out there and has no fear. She has a bright future ahead of her.”

“She knows what she’d like to do,” Gordon Bellis said. “We always told her what we’d like her to do. Ideally, she would have not been too good at an early age to go to college for a little bit. That would have been my chief druthers, but fate might not allow that.”

While it has not been determined yet where the Bellis-Kerber match will be played, there is a good possibility it will be on one of the two stadium courts.

Rogers recalled playing her first match in Arthur Ashe Stadium last year, calling her third-round loss to Simona Halep “the coolest experience I’ve ever had.”

“It’s so much louder, so much bigger than you think it’s going to be,” she said. “I practiced there before, but that match setting is so much different. You just have to experience those things and learn how to deal with them. And the more you play, the better you get.”

Gordon Bellis said Ashe Stadium would be “a different scenario” than the intimate environs of the Grandstand or outside courts. CiCi, who has never played Kerber before, will simply have to wait and see if the tournament organizers put her in the 23,000-seat stadium.

“I think it would just be even better for me,” she said. “More fun for me.”