CiCi Bellis may only have turned 20 in April, but the American has admitted that she thought her professional tennis career might already have ended.
Since suffering a wrist injury in March 2018, the former WTA World No.35 has been away from the Tour facing an extraordinary fight to regain her fitness. She has undergone four surgeries but there is now light at the end of the tunnel for the Californian.
It has been a long battle to regain her form – and it was not one that she always thought she was capable of winning.
“I can’t believe I got through,” she told Tennis.com. “Each time I was like, no, I’m not doing the surgery. I’m done with tennis. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to put my body through this anymore. It’s just not worth it. Especially before the third one, what I had to get done seemed so barbaric to me, that I felt it couldn’t be real. But I ended up doing it. My gut told me to do it and fix it and try to come back.
Having suffered numerous setbacks, including the news she would require further surgery to break a bone in her arm so it could be shortened, quitting seemed like a distinct possibility.
“It was the worst experience ever. I would literally be sobbing after each call with the doctor and know that I’d have to go back in and do something else,” she confessed. “Before the third surgery, I thought I was going to be done. I didn’t think that could be real.”
Bellis, who said she tries not to think too much of her breakout run to the 2016 US Open third round, is making strong progress towards a return to competitive action, having trained initially with low-pressure balls in order to protect her wrist.
“I’m hitting,” she confirmed. “I’m going to multiple days in a row, which is a positive. I’m moving to a normal ball this week. I’m progressing every day and there’s not been any setbacks yet.
“I’m figuring out my schedule and figuring out when I’ll be able to play tournaments again. We’re playing it by ear at this point.”
Meanwhile, she will return to the Tour with the perspective that there is a life beyond tennis, having started classes at Indiana East University, where the WTA will pay for 75% of her tuition fees if she scores a grade C or better.
“We never experienced my life without tennis,” she said, reflecting on her family. “I have a totally different life outside of tennis. I could have a totally normal life without tennis. I knew tennis wasn’t my whole life, but this really opened my eyes. I am a whole different person and I can fall back on that if I need to.”
Bellis, though, is not done with the sport yet.