Pro Interview: Catching Up with CiCi Bellis Before the 2020 US Open
2020 has been a fresh start for Northern California native CiCi Bellis. She’s back on the court and feeling good after a long recovery from multiple surgeries that kept her from tennis for more than a year. And, she wasted no time getting back into the swing of things, reaching the third round of the Australian Open this year in her first slam back. Just as she was primed to launch her comeback and boost her ranking, the Coronavirus hit and brought tennis to a standstill.
Although tournaments and the circuit were on a break for months, CiCi used the time to focus on her game and continue to get back on track. And now that tennis has returned, she is ready and excited to be back on the court again.
USTA NorCal recently caught up with CiCi to see how she is feeling, what she’s doing to prepare before the 2020 Western & Southern Open (Cincinnati Open) and US Open, and how she has been handling the Coronavirus upon her return to tennis.
Q: You recently competed in a tournament in Kentucky. How do you feel about your performance? And you’re getting ready for the Western & Southern Open. How do you think both of these events will have helped you prepare for the US Open?
A: I think both tournaments were very good warm-ups for me before heading into the US Open. I got to play in a lot of competitive matches against a variety of great players. I made it to the quarterfinals in Kentucky and forced a tight match against Aryna Sabalenka in round 32 of the Western & Southern Open. Getting on the court after such a long break is the best practice headed into a major, and I now know what I need to work on now in preparation for the US Open.
Q: How has preparing for the US Open been different during the pandemic? Are you approaching the US Open differently this year based on the circumstances?
A: No, I’m approaching it the same way as always. While there are certainly going to be differences from past years, for me, I will go in having prepared the best that I possibly can and will look forward to playing at one of my favorite venues.
Q: What does a typical day look like training ahead of the US open?
A: It’s pretty much the same as every day. I do drills in the morning and then concentrate on playing matches with other players in the afternoon. I also love that I have the opportunity to practice with players from other countries when I’m at tournaments too, which is nice.
Q: How has it been training in Florida leading up the US Open? Have you been able to maintain your regular training routine with partners or your team?
A: Since I live in Florida, I have been there during the pandemic. I had an amazing four or more months of training. I was able to practice every day with my coach, as well as get playing time in with a couple of different hitting partners. We were able to work on a lot of different things during this time. It was also helpful to train in the Florida weather. You never know what the weather will be like in New York, so it was great to train in the hot conditions and be prepared if that will be a factor this year's Open.
Q: In the past, we have talked to you about having some superstitions. Do you have any new ones or ones you still follow?
A: I have always been very superstitious with everything in life since I was young, so I definitely still have some as they relate to tennis. I have a few superstitions, such as what I eat before my match and what music I listen to.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your injury, coming back from it, and what you missed most while you couldn’t play the sport?
A: It was a pretty tough injury and it was a long road to recovery. I missed competing during that time for sure. I love playing and training, so it was tough not being able to do so for such a long time. But, I decided I wanted to make sure I focused on my recovery the best I could and really take the time I needed. I am glad I made that decision because I feel good now, and I am just so happy to be back out on the court and doing what I love.
Q: 2020 was a fresh start for you coming off a long recovery. You had a great start to the year by making it to the 3rd round of the Australian Open. How has the pandemic impacted you physically and mentally after your return to tennis? Has it been hard to get any momentum?
A: Due to my injury, I haven’t had any momentum in a long time, so it hasn’t been too terribly difficult in terms of the impact the Coronavirus has had on my game. Now that tennis and some of the tournaments are resuming, it will be nice to get back to a consistent playing schedule. I think it will really help me move forward, and I want to work toward boosting my ranking.
Q: Have you kept in touch with any of the other players during the quarantine? And are there any particular players you are most looking forward to seeing or playing?
A: Even though it has been tough to not see too many people while social distancing, I saw a few of the US players that also train in Orlando during the quarantine, so that was nice. I also kept in touch with a number of players on tour. While I am just excited to just be back out there, I was most looking forward to seeing Marketa Vondrousova. She is one of my best friends. Now that we are in New York, we actually even got to practice together.
Q: This year’s US Open will be a unique experience with all of the players staying in the bubble. Have you done any planning on how this might impact your play or how you will find time to unwind when not playing or prepping for matches?
A: I think they have done a really good job with the new circumstances. They have made the bubble very nice for the players with all sorts of things to do. I typically travel with my coach and physio, and they are here with me now, so we play cards every night. Honestly, one of the hardest parts about the bubble has been the food and not being able to go out for dinner. There’s only so much you can find on Uber Eats. Fortunately, there is good food at the site, which takes care of lunch.
Q: Have you been focusing on any particular part of your game recently? Do you have any personal goals you are working toward with this Open?
A: I’m always looking to improve every aspect of my game. I’ve been working on moving forward a lot and finishing points at the net. My goal is to enjoy my matches and continue to improve with each one.
Q: Any pregame rituals or pump up routines that you have to change due to the new circumstances?
A: No, I still listen to music before my matches to get me going. Luckily, there is nothing I really have to change, so my pregame routine will continue as normal.
Q: Being American, the US Open could be considered a “home” slam for you. Does that add more pressure or do you thrive off playing on a home court?
A: I enjoy playing there so much. I don’t feel any extra pressure. At this point, I’m just grateful to be able to play again. Just being here, even without the fans, is so great and it’s such a special place for me.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has given people a lot of down time. We saw you recently started a cooking instagram account (CiCi Cooks) and have been cooking throughout the quarantine. Do you have a favorite dish you’ve made or a dish that has been the most popular among your fans?
A: I have always loved to cook, but I am often so busy with tennis and practicing that I don’t always have a ton of time to focus on it. With the pandemic putting a lot of normal activities on hold, I was able to spend more time cooking and I thought it was a great time to get a jump on it and document what I am doing with everyone. It’s been fun so far, and I think one of the most popular dishes that I’ve made has been a copycat of Chick-fil-A’s chicken biscuit. I debuted my version of the recipe on a Sunday when Chick-Fil-A is not open, and it’s always when I crave it, so it was a fun one to share.
Q: We also heard you live close to Mackie McDonald and have been known to share your baking goodies. We have to know does he make requests?
A: Yes, Mackie lives less than a mile from me. It has been nice to have him close by during the pandemic, and he has safely hosted a few board game nights. And yes, he always requests that I bring a dessert when I come!
Q: And finally, if you could sum up 2020 so far in one sentence or phrase, what would it be?
A: 2020 has given me the opportunity to get back on track. So, I am excited to see what else is in store.
Tennis Update: After our interview with CiCi, she went from making it to the quarterfinals in the Kentucky tournament and the round of 32 of the Western & Southern Open to competing in the US Open. She had a great first round beating German tennis player Tamara Korpatsch and went on to play fellow American Jennifer Brady in the second round. Ultimately, her 2020 US open ended here, but we are excited to continue following CiCi on her journey and will always be rooting her on.