American teen CiCi Bellis of Atherton became the youngest player to win a US Open match since 1996 -- almost three years before she was born -- when she stunned Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova on Tuesday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
The 15-year-old Bellis rallied from down a break in the third set at 3-1 for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 first-round victory over the 12th-seeded Cibulkova. With an overflow crowd at a cozy side court roaring, she broke Cibulkova's serve to clinch the match as she converted six of 11 break points.
"Believing was the No. 1 thing that I had to do today. Just go out there and believe that you can win," Bellis said in a post-match interview. "If you do believe, there's two options -- you can either believe and lose or believe and win, but if you don't believe you're going to lose anyway."
Bellis won the USTA Girls' 18s National Championship earlier this month -- defeating Tornado Alicia Black in straight sets -- to earn a wild card into her first tour-level main draw. She was the youngest champion of that event since Lindsay Davenport also won it at 15 in 1991.
There were plenty of hugs for family and friends afterward as Bellis herself appeared to be in disbelief about her accomplishment. She became the youngest player to win a main-draw match at the US Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996, when the then-15-year-old Russian reached the fourth round as a qualifier.
Bellis now plays Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, a winner over Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, in the second round.
Bellis has won one doubles title on the ITF tour in her career. On May 19 of this year, she reached her best singles ranking of world No. 1,204. She's currently ranked No. 1,211. On July 28, she peaked at world No. 884 in doubles.
Bellis, who is home-schooled and essentially a high school sophomore, was ranked as the No. 2 junior female tennis player in the world in June. She started the year on a 30-1 tear in the juniors and soared up the rankings after winning two of the most prestigious junior events held in the U.S. -- the International Spring Championships (two days before her 15th birthday) and the Easter Bowl (five days afterward).
Bellis played a few futures events in 2014, going 2-4 in the main draw and earning $799 in winnings (though she's not a professional).
Cibulkova, who captured the 2013 Bank of the West Classic title at Stanford, has won four career titles and made over $1.1 million for her finals appearance in the Australian Open alone, where she lost to Li Na. The Slovakian is currently ranked No. 13 in the world.
Bellis will move up approximately 800 spots in the rankings when they're released after the US Open. Even with a second-round loss, she should expect to be ranked around No. 430.
Elsewhere Tuesday, former Stanford All-American Nicole Gibbs won her opener with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Caroline Garcia of France. Gibbs, 21, won two NCAA singles titles and one doubles crown for the Cardinal before turning pro last summer.
Gibbs, ranked 136th in the world, is playing in her third straight US Open.
In men's action, former Menlo School standout Dmitry Tursunov dropped a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 decision to Alejandro Gonzalez of Columbia in the first round.