Saturday, August 15, 2015

Belinda Bencic the new 'Swiss Miss' in the making?

TORONTO, Canada - Belinda Bencic's Toronto debut has been flawless. The 18-year-old Swiss star came into the Rogers Cup at a career-high of No.20 and battled through three tough wins to make her second Premier quarterfinal of the season. After beating Eugenie Bouchard in the first round, Bencic beat World No.5 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets and then saved match point to beat Sabine Lisicki 6-1, 1-6, 7-6(3) on Thursday to book her spot in the quarterfinals.

"I beat three very good players, which I was watching on TV when I was small," Bencic said. "So it's like really a dream coming true now, being one of them and beating them and being in the quarterfinals here, my first appearance is just amazing."

Bencic's rise through the rankings over the last two years has been steady. Despite her Yonex attire being covered in more sponsor patches than any other player on tour, she has been able to operate outside of the searing spotlight of expectation that other WTA Rising Stars have had to endure.

A former junior No.1 and two-time junior Slam champion, Bencic's first full year on the WTA Tour came in 2014. She began the season ranked No.187 and finished the year inside the Top 40 with a final in Tianjin under her belt. After a slow start to 2015 - she started the season 1-5 at WTA events - Bencic found her game on her beloved grass.

"I mean we young players, we cannot be consistent like all the year," Bencic said. "It's really tough. And also, if you have tough draws and every first round you face a good player and you lose in three sets, it's kind of like not that you play bad, but you just have like bad momentum or something. And I really felt like I practiced really good starting in Paris, so there I won a good match against Daniela Hantuchova; I got killed by Madison Keys. But then on the grass I was just looking forward to all the year for the grass season, and I knew that it's going to be my time."

Sure enough, Bencic played some of her best tennis during the grass season. She made her second WTA final in 's-Hertogenbosch and then went on to win her first WTA title at Eastbourne, becoming the youngest to win a Premier title since Wozniacki in 2008. A fourth round run at Wimbledon soon followed, and now she's transferred that form and confidence to the hardcourts.

Tune into Bencic's matches and a few notable traits stand out. Her tactical prowess - honed under the guidance of Melanie Molitor and Martina Hingis - is evident. "She's different from most of the other young ones coming up," Wozniacki said after taking her third straight loss to the teenager. "She takes the ball early. She places the ball. She doesn't have the biggest power, but she thinks out there, and I think that's her biggest strength."

There's also her combustible nature, a quality that Bencic sheepishly owns up to. She is unapologetically emotional on court, which makes her a compelling watch. Rackets get thrown, thighs get slapped, groans to the sky get heard. But as she gains in experience she's learning how to keep things in a fine balance.

"I mean I know I shouldn't be doing that, but I am a very emotional person," Bencic said, laughing. "I feel like it helps. In my junior times and beginning of the tour I was way worse. So I try to be more calm and the matches before - just today it happened also a little bit. But I think it helps me a lot, to get pumped for the match, but also it's not good always. I mean something in between would be nice."

And then there's her ability to compete. Bencic knows how to win. She was a winner in her junior days and was not a heavy beneficiary of main draw wildcards when she began on tour. Bencic did it the hard way: By working her way through qualifying, often beating players ranked well ahead of her.

She admits to being in awe of the game's best when she first poked her head into the WTA locker room, but Bencic is far from a debutante now. She's earned her place amongst the best.

"When I played Serena in Madrid the first time, I already was like - I wasn't even playing. I was just staring at her like I'm playing her, you know? And now I feel like I really - I've seen them all in the players lounge and the locker room, so you can get used to that company. So you also try to play normal [against them]."

Normal is the watchword for Bencic. She has been tagged for greatness every since word got out that Melanie Molitor was working with a young tennis prodigy in Switzerland. The comparisons to Hingis were easy, though somewhat flawed given their different gamestyles. The key for Bencic, as she says, is to keep her feet on the ground.

"I'm really thankful for my team that they are not going to over-hype me," she said. "When you win some matches, the press and the media and the people get really excited and they tend to hype the player a lot. But I'm just trying not to get distracted by that and see myself just as I am on the practice court.

"The truth is on the court and not in the rankings or in the media or the popularity. So I think it's also a job from the people around you to keep you on the ground."

I mentioned Belinda Bencic a lot last year on the blog

But boy, is she coming into her own recently.  Getting into the semis of Rogers Cup beating 4 great players (she also defeated Anna Ivanovic in straight sets).  

This girl definitely has a bright future.  It's a testament to how great Martina & her mom are at mentoring new young talent.  

Next up for Bencic will be Serena Williams.  

I don't see Bencic winning that one, but it might be a great experience. 

Then again if Serena has an off day, one never knows...

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