CiCi Bellis on path
to competitive return
Ashley Marshall | October 23, 2019
After four surgeries and more than 18 months off the court, former world No. 35 CiCi Bellis hopes to return to competitive action before the end of the year.
The 20-year-old American has not played since Miami in March 2018, but she has her sights set on competing at the Oracle Challenger Series 125K tournament in Houston, Nov. 10-17.
“Everything’s going really well,” Bellis said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m practicing normally, and obviously I’ve done a lot of rehab in the past year or more, and everything has really strengthened and looking pretty positive.
“I love tennis so much, and it’s been my life for so long. I would miss it so much if I wasn’t playing. It’s been so amazing for me to be back to my normal practice routine, and that’s really what motivated me from Day 1 of when I had to get my first surgery, knowing that I’d be able to get back to playing full time. ADVERTISEMENT If everything goes well and I’m feeling good, hopefully I’ll be able to play my first tournament in about three weeks, then the Australian swing.”
Problems first began for Bellis in early 2018, when she was experiencing pain and discomfort in her arm and wrist, initially diagnosed as general soreness and tendinitis. But a later MRI revealed three tears in her right wrist that required surgery. The California native required a second surgery to shave down a bone spur in her elbow and then a third surgery that same year to cut and shorten a bone in her wrist and add a metal plate.
Bellis continued to experience discomfort when she got back on the practice court, and further exams in March this year revealed that the metal plate was actually too big and needed to be removed. That required a fourth surgery and another round of setbacks.
“It was definitely really tough going into each [surgery] and thinking that I would have to do the rehab all over again, but at this point, I’m pretty positive because I’m getting closer to tournaments,” Bellis said. “So right now I’m doing well. I think getting back on the practice court after each surgery and still having pain and realizing that something was still wrong and that I have to go back for another surgery and do it all over again, I think that was probably the toughest part.
“I had a lot of times where I didn’t know if it was ever going to feel right or if I was ever going to be able to play pain-free. Honestly, that’s been only clear to me that I am going to be able to, just in the last four or five months, so it’s been pretty recent, which is amazing.”
Since progressing from lower-progression balls to regular balls, Bellis is now able to take part in regular training sessions, bookended by specific rehab exercises and preventative measures.
She typically wakes up at 6:30 a.m. and arrives at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., for 45 minutes of arm-specific exercises, followed by her regular warmup for the rest of her body. She’ll practice for two hours, break for lunch, then practice for another two hours before doing 90 minutes of fitness work on site.
Bellis wraps up her day on campus with an hour of rehab work and then 30 minutes of recovery.
“I didn’t start playing pain-free until about three months ago,” said Bellis, who began taking classes at Indiana East University last fall and has now earned enough credits as a business major to be considered a sophomore. "It was such a dream because I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to get to that point, with still having the pain after the last surgery.
“My rehab team that I have at USTA—with [athletic trainer] Laura [Paczesny], [director of athletic medicine] Ed [Ryan], [sports physical therapist] Kenny [Palmer], [strength and conditioning coach] Craig Acker, Trish Kellogg (nutritionist) and [head strength and conditioning coach] Satoshi Ochi—has been unbelievable. I’ve been meeting with Larry [Lauer], our mental coach at USTA, and he’s been awesome. I have obviously my family here, my coach Tom Gutteridge is here, and I have a really good support team around me. They’ve been amazing.”