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Brilliant Bencic back in the top-20 after Pliskova win- Surging Swiss on course for biggest career title

Leye Aduloju in WTA Tour 15 Mar 2019
  • Belinda Bencic will return to the top-20 for the first time since August 2016 when the rankings are updated on Monday
  • Bencic is on a 12-match winning streak, as she moves closer to her biggest career title at Indian Wells
Belinda Bencic. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Belinda Bencic is guaranteed to return to the top 20 for the first time since August 2016, following her quarter final victory over Karolina Pliskova at Indian Wells on Thursday.

The 22-year-old Swiss came through a titanic battle against Pliskova, winning 6-3 4-6 6-3 after two hours and 16 minutes to extend her impressive winning streak to 12 matches. The former world No. 7, who had cascaded down the rankings after spending time away from the tour due to a barrage of injuries, has been in tremendous form over the last month, beating six top-ten players across Dubai and Indian Wells, and amassing an excellent 17-2 record for the 2019 season.

Bencic started her season at the Hopman Cup, partnering Roger Federer to help Switzerland to victory, and a decent start to her WTA campaign featured a semi-final in Hobart and a third-round run at the Australian Open, where she was beaten by Petra Kvitova. Since then she has been on an absolute tear, starting off with a couple of Fed Cup wins, and then that stunning title run in Dubai, where she took out four consecutive top-ten players- Aryna Sabalenka, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova- all in three sets to win her first tour-level title since August 2015.

She has brought that sensational form to Indian Wells, opening with straight sets victories over Alison Van Uytvanck and Ekaterina Alexandrova, before registering a statement 6-3 6-1 victory over world No. 1, Naomi Osaka in the fourth round. 

Pliskova provided a much sterner resistance in the quarter finals, but Bencic, like she has been doing in the last month, found a way to win. She made a rapid start against Pliskova, breaking in the third game with a crisp backhand return winner off a Pliskova second serve- one of 14 winners (against just six unforced errors) she hit in a terrific set of tennis. She encountered some duress in the sixth game, with Pliskova going up 15-40, but Bencic’s response to that adversity was magnificent, as she found four first serves to get out of trouble. A brilliant forehand down the line gave her the first set a few games later.

Bencic is into the Indian Wells semi-finals for the first time. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Pliskova hit back strongly in the second set, hitting more aggressively off the ground, and spending more time in the forecourt, and she quickly established a 4-0 lead, but Bencic, who has clearly forgotten how to lose, was not about to surrender the set. She won three games in a row to erase one of the breaks, and then had two more break points for 4-4, but Pliskova survived that game to hold for 5-3. Bencic was relentless in her pursuit of parity, and she was on the prowl again as Pliskova served for the set at 5-4. The Czech dug very deep to fend off another Bencic break point before squeezing over the line on her fifth set point. 

It was clear at the start of the final set that Bencic was the fresher of the players, but Pliskova battled hard and stuck with the Swiss through the first six games, including coming through a mammoth 14-minute service game during which she saved four break points to hold for 2-2.

She finally cracked, as Bencic took the last three games to complete another wonderful victory. Beyond the victories and the ranking points, which are obviously extremely important, Bencic must be most delighted with the chance to compete at the highest level once again, given the ordeal she has been through in the last few seasons. The fact that she was unscathed after those four successive three-setters against top-ten opposition in Dubai, and the fitness level she exhibited against Pliskova on Thursday must be separate victories on their own. 

"I think I made great steps forward in the fitness side," Bencic said after the match. "I definitely feel like I'm moving much, much better on the court than I have ever moved”. 
"I actually never feel like I'm getting tired or, like, more tired than my opponent on the court. I think that was the huge improvement. I think you definitely need it against the top of the world to be just incredibly fit and not just, like, one week but obviously many weeks in a row."

Bencic was a prodigiously talented teenager who first broke into the top ten as a 19-year-old in February 2016, but the injuries and associated loss of form soon set in. A back injury forced her to miss the 2016 French Open, and she never truly found her form for the rest of the year, and was out of the top 40 by the end of the season. Her problems mounted in 2017, as she further plummeted down the rankings following wrist surgery. The problem kept Bencic away from the tour for five months, and when she returned to action in September 2017, she way down outside the world’s top 300. To her immense credit, Bencic didn’t sulk or feel sorry for herself, but instead, studiously soldiered away on the ITF Tour, winning titles at the 100K tournaments in St. Petersburg and Dubai and WTA 125K titles in Hua Hin and Taipei to work her way back into the top 100 by the end of the year.  

Her injury worries were apparently unending, as she missed two months during the 2018 spring due to a stress fracture in her foot, but she salvaged another disjointed campaign with some fine results in the second half of the year, most notably, reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, and contesting the final in Luxembourg- her first tour-level final since St. Petersburg in 2016.

She has been back to her very best in 2019, and has charged into the top-20 after a superb run of form that has already yielded a title in Dubai, and has put her on the brink of her biggest career title at Indian Wells.

There is still plenty of work to be done if she is to claim her first Premier Mandatory title, with a semi-final against Angelique Kerber, and a potential final against Elina Svitolina or Bianca Andreescu, but she can do no wrong at the moment, and you wouldn’t put it beyond her to go all the way to the Indian Wells title.

Bencic vs Kerber is live from Indian Wells on Friday, 15 March from 9:00pm local time/ 4:00am GMT (Saturday morning). Read the full match preview.

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Brilliant Bencic back in the top-20 after Pliskova win- Surging Swiss on course for biggest career title

Belinda Bencic will break back into the top-20 after reaching the semi-finals at Indian Wells.

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