At No.4 in the top five upsets of the past season is a 17-year-old Catherine Bellis winning a battle of the tacticians against Agnieszka Radwanska at the Dubai Duty Free Championships.
WTA Staff
November 17, 2017

WHAT HAPPENED: In February, 17-year-old Catherine Bellis was the youngest player in the Top 100, having cracked the milestone at the tail end of 2016 - but, having missed the Australian swing through injury, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was just her second tournament of 2017.

It didn't seem like the ideal launchpad from which to score the teenager's first Top 10 win - but that's exactly what happened in the third round when she came up against World No.6 Agnieszka Radwanska.

The Pole, nicknamed "The Professor" for her ability to school younger opponents with her bottomless bag of tricks, instead found herself on the receiving end of a tennis lesson.

Like her more experienced opponent, Bellis's game is not centred around power, but instead intelligent point building beyond her years - and it was the American who was able to maintain control in the first set, playing every stroke of every rally with purpose.

Read the match report: Bellis completes inspired upset over Radwanska in Dubai

Though Radwanska fought back with a tactical switch-up in the second set, approaching the net more often to cut off Bellis' steady groundstrokes as the teenager began to overhit, it was the World No.70 who found the mark more in the deciding set, finishing elegantly constructed rallies with forehand flourishes to take the match 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

Read more: Top 5 Upsets of 2017
(No.5): Osaka vs. Kerber, US Open

WHAT THEY SAID: "Whew, amazing," exclaimed Bellis on her first Top 10 win after the match. "It's one of the best feelings in my life, for sure."

Her gameplan, she said, was "to really be as solid as possible, and then when I had a short ball to take advantage of it right away."

It was also little surprise to discover that the American, with her strategy-based game and keen on-court intelligence, was already a fan of her opponent - telling WTA Insider that "both Radwanska and Wozniacki have been… my idols since I was really young, and watched them play on the TV since I was five years old."

Insider Notebook: Bellis, Konjuh conjure big wins while Wozniacki survives in Dubai

Despite her injury break at the start of the year, Bellis nonetheless felt that she was "definitely playing some of [her] best tennis right now," and succeeding in her aim to "pick up right where I left off." 

She also attributed improvements in her fitness to her winning return: "I think the longer the matches go, I don't feel tired at all. I just feel really strong. After long points, I don't feel winded."

To WTA Insider, she added: "I would say right now is more important to me because when I was playing in the other match against Dominika [Cibulkova, at the 2014 US Open], I was so young. I couldn't really back that up back then because of my strength in my body and there was so much going on. Now, I feel like I'm able to win more matches consistently. I think my game can hang with these girls a little bit better now. I think this means a little bit more to me."

WHAT IT MEANS: Before 2017, Bellis's most noteworthy reults had all come on her home turf of North American hard courts. Her quarterfinal run in Dubai set her up for a stellar debut international tour.

Having shot up to No.56 following this upset, Bellis was Top 40 by the end of her first ever WTA red clay season, with a quarterfinal in Rabat and a third-round showing at Roland Garros under her belt. 

The American's introduction to grass was similarly successful, garnering a semifinal in Mallorca before taking the returning Victoria Azarenka to three sets at Wimbledon, and a second Top 10 victory followed on Bellis's return to North America when she beat World No.8 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round of Toronto.

After this, she would hit a career high of No.35 - but it would be her last win of 2017 as she tailed off with a surprising five-match losing streak.

As for Radwanska, the loss foreshadowed the Pole's worst season in over a decade as she slid from her best-ever year-end ranking of No.3 in 2016 to No.28 this year - the first time she has finished outside the Top 20 since her No.26 finish as an 18-year-old in 2007.

Dubai would be third in a streak of 11 tournaments in which the 28-year-old would fail to reach a quarterfinal - and a foot injury suffered during the clay season only added to her woes.