Bencic Battles Into the Indian Wells Semifinals
Belinda Bencic, the twenty-two-year-old from Switzerland, has been on a tear since the start of the season, defending the Hopman Cup with her compatriot, Roger Federer and defeating four top ten players on route to the title in Dubai. The Swiss sensation began the year ranked #55 and after today’s 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory, will crack the top twenty.
Three years ago, she reached a career-high ranking of #7 but it dropped precipitously following a serious wrist injury that required surgery in addition to a foot injury that forced her to miss half of the 2018 season.
Karolina Pliskova, the former world #1, is also having an incredible season. Currently ranked #5, the twenty-six-year-old from the Czech Republic won in Brisbane and reached the semis at the Australian Open, losing in three to eventual champion, Naomi Osaka.
Their first WTA tour level match in the desert at Indian Wells was highly competitive and well-played. Both prefer striking the ball from the baseline but are willing to approach the net when the ball falls short. The two-hour-plus match contained numerous lengthy and enthralling rallies, periodically punctuated by first strike tennis.
Pliskova consistently leads the tour in aces but in today’s quarterfinal encounter, her formidable serve repeatedly let her down. After losing serve in the third game of the first set, she came close to dropping serve in the fifth game following two double faults but managed to hold for 2-3 with a huge serve out wide.
Not known for possessing a huge serve, Bencic held for 4-2 with her first ace of the match and astonishingly, finished the match with the same number of aces as her opponent. While Bencic’s forehand was on fire throughout the first set, Pliskova’s often misfired.
Serving down 3-5, she overcooked two and missed a forehand volley in the net to face triple break and set point. Bencic, well inside the baseline, pounced on another weak second serve and crushed a forehand down the line winner to secure the set 6-3.
The Swiss served first in the second set, but the momentum immediately changed hands as Pliskova struck an incredible inside out forehand winner to go up 0-15. Despite hitting her second ace of the match, Bencic faced double break point and dropped serve when Pliskova struck another amazing inside out forehand winner.
Pliskova consolidated the break and kept her foot on the gas in Bencic’s next service game. Both continued to go after their shots, hitting the corners as well as going down the middle. Pliskova, though not as nimble and quick around the court as Bencic, doesn’t need to be; her formidable groundstrokes and acute angles habitually pay dividends. With another monstrous forehand down the line winner, she broke her opponent for a 3-0 lead.
Pliskova managed to hold for 4-0 despite missing a plethora of first serves and facing three break points. The on-court conditions had changed dramatically as the wind picked up and the sun’s position adversely affected the player’s ball toss.
Bencic was once again in danger of dropping serve when her backhand sailed long. The Swiss phenom regrouped admirably and closed out the game with her fourth ace. Bencic continued the forward momentum in the following game as she created three break point opportunities. Not banking on another unforced error from her opponent, Bencic secured the break with a fantastic cross-court forehand winner for 2-4.
Bencic, with her fifth ace, consolidated the break for 3-4. The Czech #1, scarcely remaining afloat, faced double break point following a double fault and an errant backhand. She saved one with an ace down the middle and held when Bencic’s return sailed long.
Belinda Bencic, down 3-5 and serving to stay in the second set, held at love following four unforced errors from Pliskova. Serving for a set and the opportunity to play a decider is never easy but for Karolina Pliskova, it surpassed laborious. In one of the longest games of the match, the world #5 faced a break point, five deuces and five set points before clinching the set 6-4 and forcing a third.
While the season is young, Belinda Bencic is 7-1 in three set matches, winning six in a row. Pliskova has had her share of compelling three set matches in 2019 including a dramatic victory over Serena Williams in the quarters at the Australian Open, coming back from 1-5 in the third to claim the set 7-5.
Bencic served first in the third and held with an ace. Pliskova returned the favor and held for 1-1 following a huge, unreturnable serve. The drama and pressure continued to mount as Pliskova faced 8 deuces and 4 break points in the fourth game of the set. After 13 mesmerizing minutes and incredible ball-striking from both, Pliskova held with another unreturnable serve.
In their following service games, each held at love. At 3-3 in the final set, both broke out new racquets as Bencic served with new balls and held to 15.
Pliskova, serving down 3-4, faced double break point and the 16th of the match. Bencic broke and would serve for the match at 5-3 following another wild, mishit forehand from Pliskova.
Bencic wasted no time closing out the match, holding to 15 and securing her spot in the semifinals where she will face former world number one, Angelique Kerber. The Swiss sensation is on a 12-match winning streak and holds a 4-3 advantage versus Kerber (4-2 if you omit Hopman Cup 2019). This certainly promises to be a scintillating and memorable match.