Both Belinda Bencic and Kiki Bertens reached the quarter-finals at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy in Russia, with contrasting effort – Bertens didn’t need long to get past Veronika Kudermetova, 6-1 6-2, on Thursday, just 57 minutes, while Bencic had taken an hour and three quarters to see off Svetlana Kuznetsova, 7-6(4) 6-4, on Wednesday.
I just remember in every match I was down, I was not leading the match for sure and somehow I always managed to turn it around and come back. It was really nice, I had nothing to lose, I played great, I felt great, because I played three-set matches. Overall it was a very emotional week for me. Belinda Bencic
It was a lot harder for 3rd seed Petra Kvitova, who needed over 2 hours before she got the better of Alison Van Uytvanck in 3 sets.
After the Czech’s 7-6(1) 1-6 6-2 win, she said: “It was a tough one. I’ve never played Alison before.
“She’d already played one match on the surface and for me it was the first one, so that’s always a bit challenging.”
Maria Sakkari, the 6th seed at the event, triumphed against Alize Cornet 6-2 6-4, but 7th seed Donna Vekic was beaten 6-1 7-5 by Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Bencic remains on track as favourite to lift the trophy on Sunday, and the Swiss is also looking towards defending her title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title next week where she also has significant points to defend.
Last year she was on the comeback trail following a slew of injuries that derailed her career, having reached No 7 in the world back in 2016, when she was just 18 years old.
A lower back injury, a left wrist problem that required surgery, and a pre-stress fracture in her foot, halted her progress and she had not won a tour-level title since Toronto in 2015, when she upset four top-10 players – including Serena Williams and Simona Halep – en route to the trophy.
In Dubai she repeated the feat by toppling 4 top-10 players back-to-back to clinch her first tour-level crown in nearly 4 years and provided the launch pad Bencic needed to get back to where she belongs, ending 2019 ranked No 7, and voted the WTA’s Comeback Player of the Year.
She defeated 9th-ranked Aryna Sabalenka, saving 6 match points against the Belarusian in a late-night showdown to grab a spot in the quarter-finals, then Halep from a set down and, in the semis, two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina, who served for the match but Bencic somehow survived.
In the final, she won a 4th consecutive 3-setter to overcome Petra Kvitova, who had blitzed Bencic just a few weeks earlier at the Australian Open.
“I just remember in every match I was down, I was not leading the match for sure and somehow I always managed to turn it around and come back,” Bencic told The National ahead of her title defence in Dubai next week.
“It was really nice, I had nothing to lose, I played great, I felt great, because I played three-set matches. Overall it was a very emotional week for me.”
Bencic stopped working with her father, Ivan, as her coach for two years but they reunited at the end of 2018 and she now has a tight-knit team with her, travelling with her dad and her fitness trainer Martin Hromkovic.
Bencic is now ranked a career-high No 5 and her main goal for 2020 is to stay healthy, maintain her place among the world’s top 10, and compete at the Olympics.
“It’s a really big goal. Obviously, I was really sad in 2016 I couldn’t play and this year it’s actually one of my highlights of the year, to play Olympics in Tokyo,” Bencic said. “I’m really excited and curious how it’s going to be because I have no idea what to expect and just overall just really excited.”