The 20-year-old American Catherine "CiCi" Bellis will finally make a return this weekend after being sidelined for more than a year and a half. Bellis hadn't played since Miami 2018 when she won just three games against Victoria Azarenka in the first round, enduring many obstacles after that and doing her best to recover and start playing again.
The youngster will hit the court again at the Oracle Challenger Series 125K tournament in Houston after receiving the qualifying draw wild card, starting from rock-bottom and hoping to get some rhythm ahead of 2020 when she hopes to play a full season.
Recognized as one of the most promising players of the new generation, Bellis finished 2014 as the year-end no.1 junior at the age of 15 and also the youngest top-100 player on the WTA list in 2016 and the top-50 a year later!
Back in October 2014, CiCi won two professional titles in back-to-back weeks, followed by another one in 2015, setting even higher goals for 2016 when she had a breakthrough run that propelled her inside the top-100. After reaching the final on the ITF level in Surprise, Bellis got the opportunity to make a debut in Miami before winning her fourth pro crown in June, backed by the quarter-final run at the WTA event in Stanford where Venus Williams halted her progress.
The best was yet to come at the US Open where the youngster qualified for the main draw and reached the third round, losing to Angelique Kerber and stealing the spotlight of the world's tennis scene before closing the season with 14 straight ITF wins for the place inside the top-100.
The start of 2017 season was not that good as CiCi had to skip the entire Australian swing due to a left leg injury, returning in Doha and reaching the quarters in Dubai after a top-5 win over Agnieszka Radwanska. Following an opening-round loss at Indian Wells and Monterrey (it is where her elbow problems started), Bellis found her form on clay and reached the third round at Roland Garros before the semi-final in Mallorca on grass.
In Stanford, CiCi demolished Petra Kvitova for another semi-final run, losing the form after that to suffer five straight defeats at the end of the season, competing under painkillers and not treating her elbow in the right manner and at right doctors.
Nonetheless, Bellis was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year as the youngest player in the top-50 and was determined to make another strong run in 2018. The youngster reached the quarter-final in Doha although some dark clouds were gathering over her career, threatening to destroy her outstanding progress in the last couple of years.
That elbow started to hurt badly again in Dubai and CiCi couldn't play at her best in March, winning just three games against Victoria Azarenka at the beginning of Miami and not playing ever since. Unable to recover without some more drastic moves, Bellis decided to undergo a surgery at the end of June last year and had to go with another one to resolve the problems and start competing again, doing her best to get back at 100% and achieving her goal in the last couple of months.