Under hazy skies, the 18-year-old qualifier took some time to settle into a quiet outside court, as Keys lost her range, committing a flurry of errors to let the match slip away—very quickly.
“I think maybe halfway into the second set it started shifting a bit. I got a little lucky on a few balls the wind took, and I think she shanked a few,” the steadier Bellis said. “And then the third I just really started to get a good rhythm, making a lot of first serves.”
Keys and Bellis had never faced each other on tour before, but share a training facility (the USTA National Campus) as well as a physio and fitness trainer in Doha.
“I mean we know each other's game pretty well, but it wasn't like we'd played a bunch of [practice] sets over the years,” Bellis said. “It’s definitely tough to play against people that you know that well. But it's just something that's going to happen for sure.”
Last year marked Bellis’ first Premier 5 quarterfinal appearance in Dubai, and now she’s one match away from repeating that run here (Doha and Dubai swap WTA levels each season).
“I love it here,” Bellis said. “I feel really comfortable here, and both sites are so nice and the player hotels are amazing. So yeah, just feels really relaxed and awesome.”
Bellis raved about the comfort of the tournament hotel (it’s a Four Seasons resort) and the proximity to the beach—a perk that a teenager from California would certainly relish.
“Every afternoon when we're done with practice, we go down to the beach and like lay there,” Bellis said. “You don't get to do that in a lot of places. So it's so nice the hotel is really right on it. It's just important, taking your mind off the tournaments.”
The teen has had a lot more time than most players in the draw to get used to life in Qatar after running through the qualifying draw as the top seed.
“I was literally one out [of main draw],” the world No. 48 said. “That was one time that I wasn't even mad about having to play qualies, because the courts are a little different here; you have to get used to them.”
It’s easy to forget that Bellis is just 18, despite having been a face on the tour for over three years. She turned pro in 2016, after some speculation over committing to Stanford University (she has said she’s 100 percent going to get a degree some day).
While her game has grown exponentially along with her ranking (which hit a high of No. 35 last August), her biggest hurdle adjusting to tour life has been physical.
“Fitness has been a huge one for me,” she said. “I think just playing a bunch of matches each tournament, tournament in, tournament out, and being able to play a bunch of matches each week is something that I've been working on. It’s gotten a lot better for me; whereas, last year I'd get tired really easily.”
She certainly didn’t tire against Keys on Wednesday. Many first heard of Bellis as the 15-year-old prodigy who stunned Dominika Cibulkova at the US Open in 2014. Despite the hoopla surrounding that memorable debut, she’s far more accustomed to smaller arenas—like the ones in Doha are like (outside of the stadium).
“I’ve definitely have played on smaller courts like this more than I've played on bigger ones. So this feels more comfortable right now for me,” Bellis said. “But hopefully I'll be able to play on bigger courts more in the future.”
This Week on Tennis Channel Plus 2/12
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