Catherine Bellis of the U.S. plays a shot against Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki during their third round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France. Saturday, June 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Joel Drucker: The Bell Rings For Bellis

A Saturday stroll around the grounds. My Tennis Channel colleague, Diane Phan, and I had trekked beyond Court Philippe Chatrier, out towards Court Suzanne Lenglen, further west towards a bank of practice and field courts. But then it was time to head back towards Court 2, filled to capacity with 1,500 fans, tucked in to watch the resumption of a match between 18-year-old American Catherine “CiCi” Bellis and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki. The tennis had been called Friday night at 8:34 p.m. Wozniacki had won the first set 6-2, with Bellis leading the second 5-2.

In just about every possible circumstance, out of courtesy for players seeking to gain a measure of recovery time, the tradition at tournaments is that a resumed match takes place second. So it was that Wozniacki and Bellis had waited more than four hours for a men’s five-setter between Kevin Anderson and Kyle Edmund. It was now 3:25 p.m., the temperature in the low 60s, the skies overcast and a strong hint of imminent rain. Bellis, who conducts herself with the urgency of someone double-parked, bolted out to serve in hopes of squaring the match. Still, it’s not easy for any player to resume a match, particularly at the late stages of a set. Six sloppy points ensued, but soon enough, Bellis had closed it out.

We sat in the southeast corner of the court, wedged into a corner where the ballkids sat, awaiting the summons for their rotation. With all seats taken, the best viewing spot was to sit on my knees, accumulate clay particles on my shoes and absorb the texture of the match just two feet to the east of the baseline. Any closer and I would have tumbled on to the court. As always, it was enthralling to witness the tennis this close. See it this way and all the intensity, technique and power jump off the court with the velocity of a brick thrown through a glass window.

Bellis broke at 1-all. Her face revealed: Was the meter maid coming? Could Bellis earn the biggest win of her blossoming career? Hopeful USTA officials lined the court – president Katrina Adams, executive director Gordon Smith and general manager player development Martin Blackman in the southwest corner, veteran coaches Jose Higueras and Ola Malmqvist up a few rows behind the baseline.

Alas, at least from an American standpoint, Bellis was broken at love. From the Wozniacki standpoint, though, how great indeed to be back on serve. Had it only been seven years ago when Wozniacki, at the mere age of 20, had reached the top of the world? Seven years; not too distant for humans, but for tennis players, dog years. Here now was Wozniacki, a seasoned 26-year-old, on serve at 2-all and then 3-all in the third with a very focused teenager.

Bellis served at 3-4. On the first point, a netted forehand. Then, a double-fault. The urgency and intensity of her game was also paralleled by a certain bottled-up, rushed quality to her strokes, a sense less of smooth, relaxed ball-striking and more of hyped-up energy. The Bellis backhand is reliable and will likely become even more fluid as her career unfolds. But the forehand can sometimes be rushed, struck too flat. The compelling qualities of her pacing in between points might well be complemented by a more methodical approach in tough situations. As a wise player once said: When you’ve got a lead, make them bleed. But if you’re going down, slow it down.

Wozniacki broke for 5-3, and from 30-15, closed out the match in rare style: two straight aces. For the Dane, a mildly challenging day at the office. But for Bellis, an impressive Roland Garros debut – two wins and an ardent effort versus a former number one. It was time to get off my knees.

Read more articles by Joel Drucker


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