Bencic must reach the final of the Premier-level event in order to secure the final spot at the WTA Finals Shenzhen and make her debut at the season-ending championships, otherwise the last place will be filled by Kiki Bertens – and with both women in the same half of the draw in Moscow, the possibility of a semifinal showdown for Shenzhen is very much alive.
Neither woman gave an inch as they opened their Moscow campaigns, both having to come from behind against tough opponents. Bertens beat six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 to set up a quarterfinal clash with Kristina Mladenovic, while Bencic came back from 0-3 down in the final set to beat Polona Hercog 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Hercog has had a great season and been tantalizingly close to a few big wins over top opposition but has been unable to close them out, and something of the same dynamic was in play against Bencic on Wednesday. But the way the Swiss player lifted her game after losing the first set in such one-sided fashion was impressive, and she recovered from a poor start to the decider in similar fashion, winning six of the last seven games to close out the win.
‘She has a difficult game style for me. I don’t like it so much and I had a hard time adapting to it but I’m happy with my fighting spirit today,’ Bencic said afterwards.
‘Everyone’s very tired now it’s the end of the season. It’s all about your mentality now. I’m trying to relax and play how I’ve played this season.’
The US Open semifinalist and Dubai champion suffered a setback with her early defeat to Anna-Lena Friedsam in Linz last week, where she failed to make any inroads on Bertens’s narrow lead in the Road to Shenzhen, but the third seed has twice made the final of indoor hard-court tournaments (St Petersburg in 2016 and Luxembourg last year) and is an excellent player on this surface.
The unseeded Flipkens booked her place in the quarterfinals with wins over two powerful, hard-hitting players, beating Natalia Vikhlyantseva 6-3, 6-2 and fifth seed Dayana Yastremska 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Flipkens also qualified for the main draw at the Kremlin Cup, and has dropped just one set in five matches in Moscow.
Ranked as high as world no. 13 in 2013, when she reached the semifinals of Wimbledon, Flipkens started the year at world no. 47 but dropped outside of the top 100 after she failed to defend her runner-up finish in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last year, losing in the quarterfinals to Elena Rybakina.
Flipkens – known as ‘Flipper’ – is in danger of finishing the year having lost more matches than she’s won for the first time since 2014. Her current win-loss record for this year stands at 21-23, with five of those 21 wins having come in Moscow this week, and she has only won back-to-back matches on four occasions: Quarterfinal appearances in Hobart, Monterrey, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Seoul (she also made the second round of the US Open, but as a lucky loser).
The 33-year-old Flipkens’s only WTA Tour title came on indoor hard courts in Quebec in 2012 and she’s clearly been playing well in Moscow this week, but the head-to-head is distinctly in Bencic’s favour. Flipkens won their first encounter in New Haven in 2016, but Bencic won in three sets in Linz the following year and last year in Luxembourg won 6-1, 6-3. As good as Flipkens can be on indoor hard courts, Bencic is clearly better and her counterpunching game is an effective neutralizer of Flipkens’s sharp slice and net attack. With so much incentive to win, Bencic should be able to claim a third straight victory over the Belgian and keep her Shenzhen hopes alive by reaching the Moscow semifinals on Friday.
Bencic vs Flipkens Kremlin Cup tennis is live from Moscow on Friday at 1.30pm local/11.30am BST
Bencic vs Flipkens tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Bencic can keep Shenzhen hopes alive in Moscow
Belinda Bencic looks for her third straight win over Belgian veteran Kirsten Flipkens in the Kremlin Cup quarterfinals. *Geo-restrictions apply….
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