INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—NorCal or SoCal? It didn't matter what part of the Golden State you repped on Thursday. As Angeleno Ice Cube would say, It was a good day.
CiCi Bellis, born in San Francisco, and Taylor Fritz, born in San Diego County, both reached the second round of the BNP Paribas Open. Like their birthplaces, the ways in which they advanced were quite different. Fritz survived a match point against fellow American (by way of St. Joseph, Mich.) Reilly Opelka, while Bellis won the first six games of her lopsided opener with Sara Sorribes Tormo.
Both Californians showed off their combinations of craft and command that makes them potential U.S. threats as they mature. Each lacks a pure point-ender in the way that, say, Opelka unleashes 140-M.P.H. plus serves, but their court sense and coverage can diffuse even the most stubborn and powerful opponents.
Bellis, who will turn 19 in exactly one month, has steadily risen since stunning the tennis world by defeating Dominika Cibulkova at the US Open as a 15-year-old. The junior star's 2018 season includes a round-of-16 appearance in Sydney, where she won three matches to qualify, and a quarterfinal showing in Doha, where she qualified and upset Madison Keys and Karolina Pliskova. With her 6-0, 6-3 win over Tormo, she'll meet defending Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina in a compelling second-rounder.
Ranked No. 45, Bellis has a long way to go before she joins compatriots like Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens in the discussion of great young Americans. But what Bellis has already accomplished in the pros is worthy of praise, and her year will be as intriguing to follow as the seasons of the aforementioned 2017 US Open semifinalists.
You might say that Fritz, still just 20, is already quite mature for his age: he's married and recently became a father. On the court, he's making his way back from a left knee injury that derailed a fantastic 2016 campaign that at one point saw him reach No. 53 on tour. The setback left Fritz floundering in 2017; a rankings nosedive followed. He's made his way back to No. 74 with a series of deep runs on the ATP Challenger Tour: a final in Noumea; a title in Newport Beach; a semifinal in Indian Wells—the Challenger event, of course.
How deep can Fritz go at the main event? Although his technically sound and potent game has tennis purists watching, he'll likely need help from more consistent or bigger-hitting opponents. Against Opelka, who swats aces with the reliability of a Los Angeles traffic jam, he dodged a match point when his 20-year-old counterpart struck a heavy forehand wide in a second-set tiebreaker. After winning the next three points to snag the second set, Fritz dodged peril again when Opelka overhit a forehand on break point at 3-2.
From there, Fritz's game took flight, which put pressure on the superior server. Opelka double faulted to drop the second-set tiebreaker, and a double fault at 4-4 in the third gave Fritz the only opening he needed.
Fritz's 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 win earned him a match with Andrey Rublev, another member of the ATP's NextGen. It will be a telling signal, much like Bellis' match with Vesnina, of whether this talented Californian is heading more north than south.
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