You don’t expect a player to be competing in a tournament in December, midway through preseason training, but for Belinda Bencic, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
The 20-year-old Swiss underwent left wrist surgery last spring, missing five months of action before returning in September. The ex-world No. 7 dropped to 312 in the world rankings as a result.
Bencic won her first tournament back from surgery – a $100k ITF in St. Petersburg – and added two more trophies in Thailand and Taipei to vault back into the top-100 and secure a spot in next month’s Australian Open main draw.
Playing in Dubai at the $100k Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge this week, Bencic claimed an 11th consecutive match win by defeating Vitalia Diatchenko 6-4, 6-4 in the first round on Tuesday. It was her third encounter with the Russian in the last two months.
“It was a very difficult match. We’ve played each other in the last couple of tournaments a lot of times so we know each other well and she’s very difficult to play so I was happy to could go through,” Bencic told Sport360.
“Obviously I’m just enjoying to play again and I haven’t expected to play that many matches but I’m super happy to get the confidence back and the matches back, the rhythm back, so I hope I can continue here like that and we’ll see.”
Bencic, a former junior world No. 1, made waves on the WTA tour when she was just 18-years-old. She won two Premier-level titles in 2015 – Eastbourne and Toronto – and later became the first teenager in seven years to crack the top-10.
An injury-ravaged 2016 halted her progress, before wrist problems sidelined her this year.
The Swiss youngster, often compared to her five-time Grand Slam-winning compatriot Martina Hingis, says she’s back to full health now, and is ready to fight her way back up the rankings.
She’s up to 98 in the world thanks to her strong results over the past eight weeks.
Bencic has played 27 matches in the last two months. Playing so many back-to-back matches is different to hitting the practice court every day. Has her body been holding up nicely?
“It’s true but I actually think practicing every day is harder than matches. No, but I had some rest obviously after the two (title) wins in Asia and I came here refreshed and I’m doing this tournament as part of my preparations (for 2018) so I’m actually practicing more than I usually do during a tournament so I’m using it as a practice then I’ll be ready for Australia,” she explained.
🏆#2 Great week step by step and onto the next one🐾 pic.twitter.com/28iP9yPoPO
— Belinda Bencic (@BelindaBencic) November 14, 2017
Bencic’s rapid rise meant that she had experienced some incredible highs at the top level of the sport from a very young age. She made the quarter-finals of the US Open at 17, won a Premier 5 title at 18 and claimed more than 10 victories against top-10 opponents.
She’s now gone back to the ITF circuit to boost her ranking, playing lower tier tournaments.
“Actually I enjoy it. When I came up the first time I had to go to all these tournaments so it’s actually nice to be back and fight my way back and play a lot of matches and not start big and then losing and winning a round and I just wanted to come into the rhythm and I think that worked pretty well,” said Bencic.
Tennis courts all around Dubai are currently packed with players preparing for the 2018 season. Roger Federer, Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova, Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari and many more have been spotted in the Emirates practicing over the past few weeks.
Bencic, and other players competing at Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge this week, are taking part in a tournament while also going through their preseason preparations.
“It’s the first time I’m doing it actually. I would be here doing the preparation anyway and I have a tournament in front of my nose so why wouldn’t I play it? I think it’s good because we can figure out how that works for the first time so we’ll see and until now it’s good and I’m enjoying it,” she said.
Bencic made a significant coaching change this season, bringing in Elina Svitolina’s former coach, Iain Hughes, to replace her father, Ivan, who had been traveling with her throughout her career.
Asked about her new set-up, Bencic said: “It’s not that new anymore, it’s since July. But until now it’s been working great. I’m very happy we’re working great together I think, it’s definitely showing. I mean my father was here too, he’s still supporting me and watching every match but he’s more traveling with my brother now.”
Having already picked up three titles since September to make a quick return to the top-100, is Bencic approaching 2018 with high expectations?
“I’m still taking it step by step, it was a bonus that I actually qualified for the Australian Open. I was expecting to play the qualies so I’m actually taking it much easier now,” she replied.
Bencic faces Tereza Martincova in the Habtoor Tennis Challenge second round in Dubai on Wednesday.