CiCi – What’s in a Name?

By Cheryl Jones

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A little background for this story is necessary, not because it is difficult to understand, but because there’s always a back story to most anything.

Tennis players’ names often have to fit on a makeshift scoreboard and using an entire first and last name can be a bit of a problem, especially if one’s name is Noppawan Lertcheewakarn. She decided to stick with “Nok”, much to the scorekeeper’s delight. (She’s never really retired, but she played her last match nearly two years ago and rumor has it she is studying to be a police officer.) CiCi Bellis didn’t have to shorten her name to fit on a scoreboard. She was already CiCi when her career took an upward turn.

(The WTA has its share of nicknames and actually, there are now a couple of CoCo’s touring the world of women’s tennis. CoCo – Colleen Vandeweghe is 28 and has been trudging through the trenches for quite a while. She has a load of talent, but not much hope for an upturn with an 11 year career that has now left her rankings languishing in the two hundreds. The other Coco – Cori Gauff – has only just begun her career. She’s 15, currently ranked 66 and so far her future looks pretty darn rosy.)

Following the theme of rhyming syllables for first names, there’s also, a Kiki on the women’s tour. It’s her given name, so she doesn’t count, but CoCo’s uncle KiKi Vandeweghe may have been an inspiration for the Dutch player’s full name of Kiki Bertens.

CiCi Bellis’s first name is short for Catherine Cartan Bellis. CiCi fits her. She’s just a slip of a woman who at first glance could be a cheerleader. But, looks don’t always tell the story.

Bellis was only fourteen when she began to play ITF professional events. A pro tennis career seemed like it was hers for the taking after she defeated Dominika Cibulková in the 2014 US Open.

A bit later, she was offered a scholarship to attend Stanford University and play for the college’s tennis team. But the lure of the women’s professional tour was stronger than the lure of a scholarship and an education and best of all a chance to grow into her adult body. It’s always a gamble with youngsters and soft tissue and bones that add length and depth when bodies mature and settle into adulthood.

Cici Bellis winning her first WTA title in Hawaii in 2016. Photo: Instagram

CiCi Bellis is 20 years old. She’s been on the professional tour for over three and a half years. She reached her hightest ranking of 35 in mid-2017. Everything about her career as a professional appeared to be promising. But, injuries took their toll in 2018 when she was forced to have not one, not even two, but four surgeries that pushed their way into her well laid plans.

In February of 2018, she said that she literally felt her elbow crack during a match in Dubai. It turns out that the problem didn’t originate in her elbow. It was an odd one. She had a “too-long” wrist bone and the first surgery repaired three tears in her wrist soft tissue. Another surgery determined that the elbow pain was from two bone spurs that had collided and one of them had fractured.

Medical intervention had to be implemented. The bone spurs had to be shaved. Along with that preventive surgery, her “too long” bone was reshaped and she shared that they cut the bone and shortened it and installed a plate that took on a life of its own. It had to be removed because it was too large. With all of this, it would have happened whether or not she was a professional athlete, but, she was and the aftereffects of the surgeries are not only detrimental to her career, but to her quality of life.

CiCi lives up to her name. She is cute, quick (mentally and physically) and has an unbelievably competitive nature. With that bit of background, a look at her on the court shows a young woman with tremendous drive, but a body that isn’t comparable to any other successful woman player on the tour.

The records say that she is 5’7” (174 cm). That height must have been marked when she had just begun her day and then she must have added two inch heels to her outfit. She is of slight stature, added to that. If she weighs in at more than 110 pounds (50 kg), it would be a surprise.

It’s not that she is ill equipped to compete, she isn’t. She is a feisty little person who has plenty of drive, but when the majority of women she faces are nearer to six feet and much more sturdily built, what chance could she have in the real world? Back to that reality thing – not much. It’s sad to say that no matter how strong her drive is, she is a tiny woman looking to compete in a world of modern day giants.

Cici enters the Australian Open with a protected ranking of 43. In reality, she has a ranking in the 800s – obviously not a position she would have imagined in her quest for a future in tennis. Her chances of moving past the first round are slim. But, tennis has always been an “any given day” kind of sport. On paper, one thing seems possible. In reality, anything is possible.

CiCi is looking to join the two CoCos and Kiki on the scoreboard that serves to announce more than the short moniker. She wants the tennis world to know that – CiCi’s back!


On 19 January 2022, CiCi Bellis announced her retirement from professional tennis.

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