Taking part in a tournament she's watched from the stands for so many years made 16-year-old CiCi Bellis of Atherton one happy tennis player, even though she lost her match.
"This is going to be my favorite tournament because I live so close," Bellis said after dropping a 6-3, 7-6 (3) decision to Japan's Misaki Doi in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on Monday. "I came, like, every year."
Bellis, who gained an immediate following after beating then-No. 13 Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of last September's US Open, became the youngest to win a match at the New York event since Anna Kournakova won in 1999. At this time last year, Bellis was a relative unknown. She won the girl's U18 national singles title to earn a wild card into the Open.
"It's been a crazy year for me," Bellis said. "The last couple of months have been tough, but I'll have that the rest of my life."
Stanford grad Nicole Gibbs defeated France's Caroline Garcia, 6-4, 7-5, and will meet the winner of Tuesday's match between world No. 20 Elina Svitolina and Kateryna Bondarenko.
"This was a big barrier for me to break through," Gibbs said. "To do it in front of my home crowd was something special."
Gibbs won her first match in a WTA Tour main draw since April. She just needed a visit to familiar territory.
"I feel so comfortable on that court it's ridiculous," she said. "I'm a lot braver there then on a lot of other courts."
Of course, winning 56 of 61 matches during an illustrious college career can produce feelings of comfort.
Sixth-seeded Andrea Petkovic wasn't feeling so comfortable early in her match, but pulled herself together in time to down No. 54 Carina Wittoeft, 5-7, 6-1, 6-3.
"I played really bad up to 1-5," Petkovic said. "It felt like my upper body and lower body were swapped. You know, your lower body, your legs, are supposed to feel the tension and your upper body is supposed to loose. I had it backward. After that I played fine."
In matches, Alison Riske beat Tatjana Maria, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 and seventh-seeded Madison Keys topped Aleksandra Krunic, 6-3, 6-0. Germany's Mona Barthel beat Stanford junior Carol Zhao 6-3, 6-0.
In doubles competition, top-seeded Hao-Ching Chan and Yung-Jan Chan beat Kimiko Date-Krumm and Mandy Minella, 6-1, 6-3, and will face Kateryna Bondarenko and Tatjana Maria in the second round. Bondarenko and Maria defeated Eva Hrdinova and Petra Martic, 7-6 (6), 6-3.
Bellis was behind, 5-3, in the second set before rallying to force a tie-breaker.
"My coach and I both thought this was a great experience," Bellis said. "It's good for me to play against players ranked so high. I hope I'm still growing. I think I grew a little bit this week."
Her struggles lately have been a result of expanding her horizons. Bellis dropped first-round qualifying matches at Charleston and the French Open, both WTA events.
"That was my first qualifying at a slam," Bellis said. "You could see how much those girls wanted to win every point."
College remains an option for Bellis, who is home-schooled. She still has a couple of years to make a choice.
"I have a SAT tutor right now and I'm working hard on that," she said. "It depends on where I am. At this point my goals aren't based on tournaments or rankings. They are based on me playing well and playing well in tournaments."
Gibbs was asked about her decision to attend college. She didn't want to offer any advice to Bellis but did acknowledge that school was the right decision for her.
"Stanford was crucial for my development," Gibbs said. "I was 17 when I went to school and I needed those years to ground myself as a person and develop as a player. My confidence comes from winning so many back-to-back matches, building a tournament and learning to deal with soreness. I wouldn't change a thing."
Bellis is not yet through with the tournament. She joins Jacqueline Cako for a doubles match Tuesday, at about 12:30 p.m., against No. 2 seed Anabel Medina Gaqrrigues and Arantxa Parra Santonja.