A Coach's Impact: CiCi Bellis on Coach Craig Layton

April 29, 2016 06:47 AM

CiCi Bellis made international headlines at the 2014 US Open with her first-round upset of No. 12 seed and reigning Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova. With the victory, Bellis, then 15, became the youngest woman to win a main-draw match at the US Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996. Following the US Open, the California native won her first pro titles at the USTA Pro Circuit events in Rock Hill, S.C., and Florence, S.C., and in the junior ranks, she clinched the ITF’s year-end No. 1 world ranking.

Bellis, now 17 and ranked No. 258 in the WTA rankings, recently wrote about a coach who has had a significant impact on her. She reflects on the influence her first coach Craig Layton had on her when she first picked up a racquet and how he still inspires her to this day.

By CiCi Bellis

The coach that had the biggest influence on my early days and still keeps in touch with me to this day is Craig Layton. He lives in Hillsborough, Calif., and was the tennis pro at the country club where I grew up playing.

My first lessons started with Craig when I was three years old. From the beginning, my lessons with him were about one thing – having fun. On some days, half the lesson was spent riding around the club in Craig’s golf cart. He wanted me to associate tennis with having a great time. It worked because I couldn’t wait to get to tennis practice each week.

As I got older and better, I continued to work with Craig at least a few days every week, and we always made sure that we worked hard and had fun in the process.

The other thing Craig did was never give up on me. I’ve had good years and bad years, good tournaments and bad tournaments, good practices and bad practices, and throughout it all, Craig has never given up on me. He always believed in me and still believes in me to this day.

Craig looks back on all the years of hard work together with such fondness. I haven’t been on court with him since I moved to Boca Raton last September, but Craig still texts me words of encouragement every few weeks. The next time I’m home, he’ll jump right back out on the court with me like I was never gone. He’ll be wide-eyed with amazement about everything that has improved in my game since I saw him last, not mad that another coach was in charge of the improvements.

Craig has never tried to hold me back. He has only ever wanted what is best for me. They don’t make coaches like him anymore. I absolutely love the game because of him. I still can’t wait to get to practice each day, and my fondest memories in life are from when I’m out practicing on the tennis court.