Folks waited for hours Thursday to catch a glimpse of the latest tennis sensation, 15-year-old CiCi Bellis, the youngest player to win a match at the U.S. Open since 1996.
Once Bellis’ second-round match began under the lights at Court 17, the overflow crowd cheered raucously for the home-schooled Californian who is ranked 1,208th and was playing in her first tour-level event.
Bellis started nervously, then won seven games in a row during one stretch, but in the end, was beaten 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 by 48th-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.
That did not dampen Bellis’ enthusiasm about the past few days, which included a first-round win against a woman who played in this year’s Australian Open final.
"Like, this whole experience has been unbelievable. Like, mind-blowing," Bellis said. "It’s been crazy. It’s been, like, the best couple days of my life."
That makes sense, given her age — and the way she instantly became the sort of made-in-a-minute modern star who collects Twitter followers by the thousands and can’t walk far without having items thrust at her for autographs.
The best thing she heard over the preceding 48-hour whirlwind?
"Just people saying that, like, I’m going to be the future of American tennis," Bellis said. "I mean, that’s what I’ve wanted to be since, you know, I was a little kid."
Which amounts to the past eight or so years, she clarified.
After all, she’s still young enough that she is entered in next week’s junior tournament in New York.
"Maybe it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, but thank you, everybody, for coming out and watching," Bellis told the wildly supportive crowd in an on-court interview. "It was amazing. I mean, I never thought I’d be here."
Bellis earned a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association by winning the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championship, the youngest to do since Lindsay Davenport also won it at 15 in 1991.
On Tuesday, Bellis grabbed headlines by surprisingly eliminating 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova. That made the home-schooled Bellis the youngest player to win in New York since Anna Kournikova, 18 years ago.
"What surprised me," Bellis said, "is that I could really, like, stay with these pros."
Bellis went as deep in the U.S. Open as major winner Ana Ivanovic.
Ivanovic, who had been having her best season since she won the French Open in 2008, looked out of sync and had 29 unforced errors in a 7-5, 6-4, second-round loss Thursday to 42nd-ranked Czech Karolina Pliskova.
"It was just a really bad day," the eighth-seeded Ivanovic said. "My rhythm was really off. And, yeah, my forehand wasn’t working at all."
Ivanovic had won 47 matches coming into Flushing Meadows, the most of any woman on the tour this year and she returned to the top 10 for the first time in five years. Her three titles equaled the career high she set in 2008, when she reached No. 1.
But she hasn’t matched that success in the Grand Slam tournaments. She made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, but lost early at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. In 10 U.S. Open appearances, she has made it as far as the quarterfinals just once.
"This is exactly what I think I have to reassess," the 26-year-old Serb said. "I had great lead-ups to every Grand Slam. I played a lot of matches and won lot of matches. … At the Grand Slams I just haven’t performed that well."
Ivanovic joins No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska as the highest seeds to fall in the tournament, which remained largely true to form on a sunny, blustery day of blowouts.
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams both won in straight sets. Others through easily included No. 9 Jo-Willfried Tsonga, No. 10 Kei Nishikori and No. 13 John Isner, who advanced to another third-round matchup with 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber, the man who has beaten him the same round the past two years.
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the third seed, won in straight sets, as did 11th-seeded Flavia Pennetta. No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard was pushed to three sets by 80th-ranked Sorana Cirstea of Romania.
Williams, who complained of swirling winds at Arthur Ashe Stadium in her second-round match against Vania King, double-faulted three times in her first game before getting it together for a 6-1, 6-0 victory.
That extended her U.S. Open winning streak to 16 matches. She is trying to become the first woman to win the tournament three consecutive years since Chris Evert had a four-year run from 1975-78.
Bouchard, the Wimbledon runner-up, reached the U.S. Open’s third round for the first time by beating Cirstea 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-4 in the late night match.
The seventh-seeded Bouchard was the only woman to reach the semifinals at the year’s first three Grand Slam tournaments. She lost in that round at the Australian Open and French Open, before her run at the All England Club made her the first Canadian tennis player to reach a major final.
Bouchard made her U.S. Open debut in 2013, exiting in the second round.
To get to the fourth round this year, she will need to beat 30th-seeded Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
If Bouchard makes it to the quarterfinals, she could face Kvitova in a rematch of the Wimbledon final.
No. 16-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who lost to Williams in the U.S. Open finals the past two years, dropped the first three games before coming back to beat 44th-ranked American Christina McHale 6-3, 6-2 in another second-round match.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion who once held the No. 1 ranking, has been hampered by injuries, including one to her left foot that kept her out for much of the season and a knee problem that led her to pull out of the tuneup event in Cincinnati.
"I don’t want to talk about frustration," Azarenka said. "I just want to talk about positives."