Shenzhen | Bencic stays alive, battling past Kvitova
Belinda Bencic kept her hopes alive with a 3-set win over Petra Kvitova on Tuesday, winning through, 6-3 1-6 6-4, and improving her chances of reaching the semi-final knockout stage of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen.
I don't think she was at her best today either, even with the serve. I think it was a really difficult match, up and down. I was getting really, like, little bit angry. I think in the last three games I was happy I kind of hold my nerve in the end. Belinda Bencic
“It’s so difficult for me to play Petra,” Bencic admitted in her on-court interview. “Her game is really big and her shots are big, so I didn’t get much rhythm. I’m so happy I kept my nerves calm at the end.”
She continued: “I’m so happy with this season already, just to make it here. Of course I wanted to win a match here, and I’m happy I did today.”
Needing a win to keep her quest of qualifying for the semi-finals alive, Bencic delivered, holding off Kvitova in round robin action in the Red Group and improving her tally to 1-1 on her debut at the season-ending event, staving off elimination.
After losing a three-set match to World No 1 Ash Barty on Sunday, Bencic was the only player in the group who would have been eliminated from knockout contention with a loss in her second match.
Nonetheless, the No 7 seed put together a run of games in each of the sets she won to score her second victory against Kvitova this season, winning the last 4 games of the opener and the last 3 of the match.
“I had 40-Love. She played two incredibly good points. She played really fearless. I was like, I have to play fearless now because I cannot push the ball in because she will kill it. I was taking it in my hands,” Bencic said.
“I had a feeling she was going wide. I don’t know. It was instinct, I think so. Definitely I was going into the point with, I have to hit the ball.
“It’s really stressful to play her, at least for me. Obviously she takes everything in her own hands, if she’s going to hit a winner or if she’s going to miss.
“When you have this small chance, you feel like you really have to do something with it, which adds pressure to you, also to your serve. It just adds overall more pressure to you.
“I don’t think she was at her best today either, even with the serve. I think it was a really difficult match, up and down. I was getting really, like, little bit angry. I think in the last three games I was happy I kind of hold my nerve in the end.”
Despite being 0-2 in group play, Kvitova also remains in contention to reach the semi-finals, along with Barty and alternate Kiki Bertens.
The Dutchwoman stepped in for the injured Naomi Osaka, who beat Kvitova on Sunday, and duly upset Barty in Tuesday’s first match to keep the group wide open.
Barty and Kvitova will face off in their last group matches, while Bencic will face Bertens.
“Ash is No. 1. It’s always big challenge…I always like to play Ash,” Kvitova said.
“It’s something different. She’s mixing a lot. We don’t always know what she will bring. She has a great slice. Definitely she will use it here, especially on this surface.
“Of course, it’s about my game, as well, how I going to handle her serve, her variety of game.
“I don’t know the scenarios. To be honest, I don’t want to know at all. Well, should be my last match of the season. I [will] really do my best there. We’ll see what happens.”
The first set of the match passed without major incident until the 7th game when, at 30-all, Bencic played a superb point to force an error from Kvitova.
The Swiss then profited from a sloppy error from the Czech to earn the first break.
The World No 6 went on the attack in the next game, but the World No 7 withstood the barrage to move 5-3 ahead.
Bencic then hit a stunning forehand winner down the line as she broke Kvitova again to seal the opening set.
As expected, the Czech responded well in the second set, breaking the Swiss in the first game and racing into a 4-0 lead thanks to several trademark winners and a dip in intensity from her opponent.
Bencic stopped the rot when she won game 5, but it was only a brief respite as Kvitova blazed her way through the next two games to level the match at one-set-all.
“Against Kvitova, you never have anything in your hands. You’re as well standing on the court and hoping she’ll miss sometimes,” Bencic said after the match. “I think definitely she was dictating the game today.
“I don’t think we played our best tennis, for sure not. Maybe in the end, the couple last games I found my game, my rhythm, my groove somehow. I’m super proud of that.
“Somehow I didn’t even feel nervous. I had no pressure of not getting eliminated. I saw the script, like, what happens if this player wins, blah, blah, blah.
“I didn’t know before the matches. I just played. I knew if I don’t win this match I’m eliminated, but I didn’t think about it.”
Everything seemed set for a dramatic decider, and the players did not disappoint.
In game 3, the Czech’s 2 double faults prompted her to throw her racket to the floor in disgust, and the Swiss then hit an un-returnable backhand to secure the break.
Bencic failed to take advantage in the next game, playing passively and paying the price as Kvitova broke her easily as the twists and turns continued.
Kvitova gifted Bencic 2 break points in game 5 with her 9th and 10th double faults of the match, and the Swiss gratefully punished a short ball with a forehand winner to break again.
Stepping inside the court as much as possible and attacking anything remotely short from the 2019 US Open semi-finalist, Kvitova responded and her bravery earned her the break she needed to level the score at 3-3.
She then held to put the pressure firmly on Bencic, before cranking up the heat on the Swiss even more by forcing a break point.
Bencic stood firm, hitting a superb wide serve that Kvitova could not return, which set the stage for the next 2 points that she won with a minimum fuss to restore parity on the scoreboard again.
From then on, the Swiss was in the zone, capitalising on more poor serving from the Czech and dragging her all around the court to set up 3 break points.
Kvitova saved 2 of them with trademark forehand winners, but she could do nothing about the 3rd when Bencic punished a short second serve with a deadly-accurate cross-court backhand winner.
Serving for the match, Bencic made no mistake, keeping her composure to clinch a crucial win, and will now have to Kiki Bertens in her final Red Group match to qualify for the semi-finals.
It promises to be an intriguing encounter, and the fact that the Swiss just pipped the Dutchwoman to the last place at the WTA Finals gives it even more spice.