NEW YORK—Belinda Bencic was in a rage. She had just dropped her serve for the first time against Donna Vekic, at an inopportune moment: 4-4 in the first set. Bencic had hit a forehand wide, a backhand into the net, and a backhand long. She spiked her racquet on the court and spent the subsequent changeover ranting at her father and coach, Ivan.
Bencic has let her temper get the better of her before, including at this year’s Wimbledon, where she went over the emotional edge in a three-set loss to Alison Riske. This time, though, something different happened; the venting helped. She came back out and played two of her best games of the match, breaking Vekic and holding easily for 6-5 with a series of deep returns and backhands that rushed Vekic. Bencic would hold on to her good form the rest of the way. Her 7-6 (5), 6-3 win catapulted her to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
“I think sometimes I need to get frustrated,” Bencic said today. “I feel like I let it out. I feel a little bit better after. I start to play better, I’m more pumped. Sometimes this happens with me.”
For anyone who has followed Bencic’s career since her early teens, it can be hard to believe that she hasn’t been this far at a major before. She began as a can’t-miss protégé of Martina Hingis’ mother, Melanie Molitor, and in 2013 she won 39 straight matches as a junior. She beat Serena Williams on her way to the Toronto title in 2015 and rose to a career-high No. 7 in the world in 2016. Bencic was touted as the next Hingis, and not without reason.
Like Hingis, Bencic has a knack for taking the ball early and, with exquisite timing, redirecting it at will. She doesn’t need to pulverize the ball to rob her opponents of time. If Hingis could reach No. 1 with that style, why couldn’t Bencic?
The reason, it seemed, was injuries. Bencic has been plagued by them; just when she recovered from a back injury, a wrist injury came along to sideline her again. Even when she returned to the tour and played ITF and Challenger events in 2018, her progress was slow. At the start of 2019, she was still ranked No. 54. She had to watch as a younger player who had never been as highly praised as a junior, Naomi Osaka, won two major titles and became No. 1. Had Bencic’s moment passed?
She says she never stopped believing in her talent, and in the evidence of her early results.
“It’s there like a dream always,” Bencic said when she was asked how she “sustained herself” through the tough days. “Even when you are playing bad, you want to come back to this feeling. You want to eventually get the big wins and have these nice feelings. Read More