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Clay Court Championship Week
Catherine Bellis Comes Home with Gold

The 12 and under division is the first opportunity a junior player has to compete on the national level, and it is the time for top players to set goals. For Catherine Bellis, that goal was to win the top prize, and she kept her eye on it.

Girls' 12s Champion Catherine Bellis
© Marcia Frost, College And Junior Tennis
"I won the bronze ball at the National Hard Courts last year in Alpharetta, Georgia," said Bellis after her win. "All year I had my mind set on winning a gold ball." That wait is over, as the petite 12 year old got the gold at the USTA Girls' 12 National Clay Court Championships at The Polo Club in Boca Raton, Florida.

"It came on clay which surprised me, but I'm just ecstatic about it," said the Atherton, California native. She may not be the only one who is surprised. There was a time when a Californian winning a national title on clay - especially at a young age - was unheard of. The trick for Bellis was to come prepared,

"I actually train on clay in Northern California quite a bit. Before this tournament, I was playing on clay twice a day for months, and it finally started to feel really natural to me." She admits that it was a challenge at first, "I'm no Spanish clay-courter. I tried to play aggressively from the first ball of every point so I could put my opponents on defense before [they put me on the defensive]. I actually played more aggressively on clay than I even do on hard courts."

Catherine Bellis, a USTA National Open winner in the 14s last year, came into the Claycourts as the tournament's top seed. She immediately lived up to that status. She won her first five matches in straight sets, only losing a total of 13 games, which comes out to less than three a match.

Things changed quite a bit when she got to the semifinals. In that round, 11-year-old Nicole Conard - playing in her hometown of Boca Raton - forced her to up her level and bring out all the confidence she had built up.

It was an early morning match with a growing crowd of spectators. The No. 13-seeded Conard came out swinging with her eye on the finals. She put Bellis on the defensive, and it's not a position Bellis was ready for after a fairly easy tournament run. Before the No. 1 seed knew it, she was dropping the set at 6-2 - her first set loss at the Clays. It was time to shift things in her favor.

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Page updated on Monday, March 09, 2020
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