When Belinda Bencic called her father and coach Ivan for an on-court coaching session during her tough three-set win over Simona Halep in the Dubai quarter-finals on Thursday, he gave her some solid advice.
“He told me one good thing. It was: ‘Do you realise who do you even play, where you play? Be a little bit grateful for that’,” revealed the 21-year-old Bencic.
His words did the trick. Bencic rallied from a set down to defeat the second-ranked Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and reach her biggest semi-final in three years.
Exactly three years ago, Bencic was coming off of a final appearance at the Premier event in St. Petersburg and was ranked a career-high No. 7 at the tender age of 18.
When she made her top-10 debut in February 2016, Bencic was the youngest to do so since 2009 and she was tipped by many to become the next big star of the WTA. Injuries derailed her career though, and a left wrist surgery kept her out of the tour for five months in 2017.
Ranked No. 45 this week, Bencic posted the eighth top-five victory of her career when she dispatched a fatigued Halep, who was contesting her ninth match in 13 days.
When Bencic returned from her injury, she started off by playing lower-tier tournaments on the ITF circuit, instead of using her protected ranking to enter WTA events right away. She worked her way up, building confidence along the way, and says she never lost faith in her abilities.
She saved six match points on Wednesday night against world No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka before pulling off the upset over Halep less than 24 hours later.
“It feels great. I’m just really happy. I’m back. I knew it was still in me, even after the injuries. You cannot just come back like this and play [snapping fingers]. Otherwise, it wouldn’t show how good tennis is,” Bencic told reporters in Dubai on Thursday.
“Players are playing two, three years constantly on the level, they’re playing semi-finals, finals. You cannot just expect to be back after the injury and play like this.
“I had to work my way back. I knew it was in me, but I’m happy that I could finally show it.”
Simona Halep played 9 matches in 13 days. She ran out of gas today against a brilliant Belinda Bencic.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 21, 2019
Earlier this month, Halep won two Fed Cup matches to help Romania reach the semi-finals with victory over the Czechs in Ostrava then flew straight to Doha and reached the final there before coming to Dubai. She admits she ran out of gas against Bencic, and could feel some pain in her Achilles’.
“The body felt that it’s tired. Even if I was not giving up, I felt like I don’t have enough to win,” confessed Halep after he quarter-final defeat to Bencic. “But I played till the end. I tried just to stay there no matter the result.”
Bencic next takes on two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina, who extended her undefeated run in Dubai to 12 straight matches with a 6-2, 6-3 success over Carla Suarez Navarro.
The other semi-final on Friday will see No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova take on the magical Hsieh Su-Wei, who came back from 1-5 down in the final set to upset No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.