Post her maiden appearance at a Grand Slam semi-final in the US Open last year, Belinda Bencic is rearing to go at the ongoing Australian Open. Marred by the slump in form and a run of injuries, Benic is cautiously approaching her game.
The 5ft 9inch Swiss defeated Slovakia's Anna Schmiedlova 6-3 7-5 to enter the second round at Melbourne Park, on Tuesday. However, the 22-year-old is privy to the agony of having one's hopes coming down crashing.
Touted as a successor to Martina Hingis
Her recent run at Flushing Meadows came five years after her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final in New York where the then-17-year-old was feted as a potential successor to compatriot Martina Hingis.
In the intervening years, wrist surgery and a string of other fitness problems repeatedly robbed her of momentum and confidence and getting back to her best took plenty of patience. But it all came together in a rush last year as she claimed titles in Dubai and Moscow before sneaking into the season-ending WTA Finals for the first time. Seeded sixth at the Australian Open, her highest at a Slam, Bencic is being seen as a Grand Slam contender again and the 22-year-old said the billing did give her confidence.
Leaving success at the US Open behind
"It does, but on the other side it doesn't buy me anything," she told reporters after her win over Schmiedlova. "It doesn't matter anymore that I played Grand Slam semi-final in US Open. Now it's a new Grand Slam and I still have to win my matches to get there eventually again.
"So, yes, it's about the confidence, for sure, but I think the expectation is a little bit bigger and I think you can't compare yourself with US Open right now. You have to focus on a brand new Grand Slam."
Mentored by five-times Grand Slam champion Hingis, Bencic lacks power on her groundstrokes but her court craft and guile often trouble the game's hardest hitters.
That was never more evident than at the U.S. Open when she dumped defending champion Naomi Osaka out of the fourth round, redirecting the Japanese player's firepower and often leaving her wrongfooted.
Some areas of her game need improving
Bencic's serve also lacks punch, so she has not joined other Tour players by pledging money for Australia's bushfire relief efforts with every ace she hits at Melbourne Park.
She is instead donating $200 for every double-fault she racks up. She caused a minor stir in the leadup to the tournament by cheekily inviting men's seventh seed Alex Zverev to buy into her fundraising model after the young German racked up an eye-popping amount of double-faults during the ATP Cup.
With four double-faults against Schmiedlova, Bencic contributed another $800 to the relief efforts for the fires that have killed 29 people and left thousands homeless. "I could have done more (double-faults), but I didn't," she said.
(With inputs from agencies)