Fifteen year-old CiCi Bellis, a wildcard into the Miami Open, scored her third career WTA win on Friday, beating No. 32 Zarina Diyas 6-2, 6-1 to advance to the third round. Bellis, from Atherton, Calif., broke through last summer at the U.S. Open, when she defeated Australian Open runner-up and No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova to become the youngest player to win a main draw match at the tournament since 1996, before losing to Diyas in the next round.
Currently ranked No. 211, Bellis has won three ITF singles titles since that big U.S. Open run, which helped her finish the year as the No. 1 ranked junior, the youngest to finish at No. 1 since 2006. In Miami, Bellis won her first round match over 18-year-old Indy de Vroome 6-2, 6-2. Having lost to Diyas 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 last September, Bellis knew what to expect on Friday.
"This one I think I played a lot smarter," Bellis said. "At the US Open I was really like caught up in, you know, all the kind of hype that was going on. But this one I was just really focused and played my game. I think I did what I needed to do to win really well."
Teenage prodigies aren't a new phenomenon in women's tennis but since Serena and Venus Williams took the sport by storm there have been more flameouts and stories of unfulfilled promise. Bellis and her family seem perfectly aware of the dangers of the hype-machine and how detrimental it can be to a junior's career. Bellis' mother Lori told Tennis.com earlier this year that she would be perfectly happy to see her daughter forgo tennis to get a good education at Stanford and go into business. Bellis says she'll retain her amateur status -- thus keeping open her college options -- until she breaks into the Top 100. Until then, she'll keep working to prove she's not a one-hit wonder.
"I think every single part of my game has improved since the US Open," Bellis said. "I mean, just from today, like I lost to her at the US Open, which was eight months ago and today I beat her 2 and 1. So I think everything in my game has improved. I have been working really hard, extremely, extremely hard since the US Open just for that. I think it's really paying off, so I'm really happy."
Soon after Bellis sealed her win, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys took the court for their first career-meeting. In blustery, swirling conditions, Stephens played the smarter, steadier game, beating 17th-seeded Keys 6-5, 6-2. Stephens has rebounded from a slow start to the season to play some of her best tennis of the last 12 months in North America, making the quarterfinals of Indian Wells and now the third round of Miami. She was aided by Keys's 36 unforced errors. The 20-year-old Australian Open semfinalist showed her frustration in the windy conditions and broke down in tears during the changeover after she fell behind 0-5 in the second set.
Stephens will play Johanna Larsson, who pulled off the upset against No. 10 seed Lucie Safarova earlier in the day, with a potential fourth round clash with Eugenie Bouchard looming.
In other results, Victoria Azarenka continued her good form, rolling past BNP Paribas Open finalist Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 6-1 to advance to the third round. Indian Wells champion Simona Halep outlasted a good challenge from wildcard Nicole Vaidisova, winning 6-4, 2-6, 6-1. Garbine Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Camila Giorgi also advanced to the third round.
On the men's side of the draw, Andy Murray had no problems with Donald Young, racing his way to a 6-4, 6-2 win in his first match in Miami. Sam Querrey once again squandered a set and a break lead, failing to close out 15th seed Kevin Anderson to lose 6-7, 7-6, 6-4. Tomas Berdych rallied from a break down in the second to beat 18-year-old Hyeon Chung 6-3, 6-4, while Bernard Tomic defeated American wildcard Austin Krajicek 7-6, 7-5.
A number of big matches are still to come on Friday. Two-time defending champion Serena Williams will test her troubled knee against Monica Niculescu during the night session. Rafael Nadal starts his Miami campaign against Nicolas Almagro, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga makes his return to the tour against America's Tim Smyczek and Jack Sock gets a shot at Fabio Fognini.