By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Cinderella grand slam debut of 15-year-old Catherine Bellis ended in the second round of the U.S. Open on Thursday when she was beaten by emerging Kazakh talent Zarina Diyas in three sets.
Bellis became an instant darling of the 2014 U.S. Open by upsetting 12th-seeded Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, making her the youngest player to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 18 years since Anna Kournikova.
Fans packed Court 17 and lines of spectators waited at every entrance to the cozy 2,800-seat stadium on Thursday for a chance to cheer on the pony-tailed Bellis.
The mega screen outside Arthur Ashe Stadium by the fountains in the main plaza was trained on the outer court drama while former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray battled on the center court.
In the end, hopeful vibes from the local crowd at the U.S. National Tennis Center could not change the script even as the stands rocked with chants of "CiCi" - the Californian teenager's nickname.
Bettis put up a valiant fight, winning seven games in a row after dropping the opening set, but the 20-year-old Diyas proved too strong and too consistent and registered a 6-3 0-6 6-2 win.
"I never thought I'd be here after the first round, so I'm happy," Bettis said in an courtside interview. "This whole thing has been such a great experience. I feel lucky and honored to been playing through it.
"Even though I was nervous I came out and played and tried as hard as I could and even though it didn't turn out as I wanted it to, it was still a great tournament."
Court 17 usher Jasmine Castillo said people began crowding into the arena during an earlier men's match. "They were coming early to get seats for her game," Castillo said.
Diyas, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and third round at the Australian Open as a qualifier and is already ranked 48th, said Bettis had a bright future.
"It was a very tough match today. CiCi played unbelievable," Diyas said. "She has great potential.
"I think experience helped me, especially in the third set. I stayed more focused... more focused on my game."
Bettis will play in the girls' singles competition next week and expects the main draw experience to help her. "I think it's definitely going to give me more confidence," she said.
Asked to summarize the experience, Bettis sounded every bit a 15-year-old.
"Unbelievable. Like this whole experience has been unbelievable, like mind-blowing. It's been crazy. It's been like the best couple days of my life."
(Editing by John O'Brien)