Bencic Outlasts Gauff In Adelaide All-Court Duel

Belinda Bencic (photo: David Mariuz/Tennis Australia)

ADELAIDE/WASHINGTON, February 26, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Belinda Bencic reached her 11th career WTA final in an unconventional way, but one she will remember and learn from.

On Thursday evening in South East Australia, the No. 2 seed Bencic failed to convert on a second set match-point opportunity against 16-year-old American teen prodigy Coco Gauff during their semifinal tussle in the WTA 500-series Adelaide International on Centre Court at Memorial Drive. However, the Swiss No. 1 regrouped and kept her composure during the decisive third set and won 7-6 (2), 6-7 (4), 6-2, in two hours and 45 minutes to reach Saturday’s final against No. 5 seed Iga Swiatek.

Although Bencic’s final statistics do not paint a pretty picture – 10 double faults, 40 unforced errors – neither do Gauff’s. The American also was in double figures in double faults with 12 and her 37 winners were overtaken by 59 unforced errors. However, Bencic did hit 34 winners and converted five of 13 break points while also saving five of eight break points that she faced. Her physical game and fitness benefited her in the final outcome. Bencic outpointed Gauff 124-107.

Bencic won the first set after trailing 1-4, then lost the second set after leading 4-1 and holding a match point while ahead 5-3. Credit Bencic for making a robust recovery in the final set to pull out the win, which advanced her to her first final since 2019 in Moscow.

“I told myself that I have to stay really calm,” Bencic said after her victory. “I knew she’s a big fighter. She always manages to come back from every score. I was prepared for that. … She has some amazing wins against very good players at this young age.”

The loss ended Gauff’s streak of four straight three-set victories in Adelaide – against Kaja Juvan, Jasmine Paolini, Petra Martic and Shelby Rogers – going back to the final round of qualifying earlier this week. Soon to be 17, Gauff will reach a career-high of No. 38 next week following her qualifying run to her first WTA 500 semifinal.

Meanwhile, Bencic expressed a sense of relief that she gets to play another day. “I’m very proud of myself that I handled this match after all the ups and downs,” she said. “It’s always a mix of relief and joy.”

Swiatek reaches third tour-level final

Next, Bencic will face the Roland Garros champion Swiatek for the first time. The 19-year-old Polish teenager, who is currently ranked 18th in the world and coming off a fourth-round finish in the Australian Open, advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 61 Jil Teichmann of Switzerland in 68 minutes. Swiatek hasn’t dropped a set in Adelaide and is perfect (3-0) in tour-level semifinals following Thursday’s win over Teichmann. She’s also won 15 of her last 17 matches.

Against Teichmann, who was biding for her second win against a Top 20 opponent, Swiatek faced just a single break point. It came at 30-40 in the fourth game of the second set. Swiatek saved it and went on to hold her serve. Then, she broke Teichmann in each of her opponent’s next two service games to put the match out of reach. Swiatek finished with 17 winners against just 12 unforced errors, while the Swiss No. 2, a two-time WTA titlist on clay – both coming in 2019 – hit 15 winners but committed 20 unforced errors.

“I think she’s using [a] lot of spin on her serve, so it was pretty tough at the beginning,” Swiatek said afterward during her press conference, commenting on the difficulty of returning the left-handed hitting Teichmann’s serve. “But then I was in a really good rhythm. When I broke her, I felt solid on my serve. I kind of felt in control from the beginning of the first set.”

Meanwhile, Bencic, who remains the only player in the past decade to reach the Top 10 before her 19th birthday, was asked to assess her title match opponent during her press conference. “She has a different, little bit more unique game. It’s always better to play a little bit different than playing like everyone else. It always makes it more tough for opponents,” she said.

“I practiced with her here a couple of times, so I know what to expect. Hopefully, I can just apply it and have a good day. …

“I have a little bit of my confidence back. I won some matches back-to-back, which is great. Yeah, I’m just going to enjoy it really.”

Swiatek seems ready for the challenge that will come from playing in her third career WTA tour-level final. She said: “Basically, I’m focusing on everything, like every second of my being on court has a purpose.”

One seeded team remains in doubles draw

No. 3 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk of the United States reached their first WTA 500 doubles final with a 6-1, 6-2 win over American pair Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria in 59 minutes.

Guarachi and Krawczyk will oppose Hayley Carter of the United States and Luisa Stefani of Brazil in Saturday’s title match after beating Yifan Xu and Yang Zhaoxuan of China, 6-2, 6-3.

What they’re saying

After achieving success by winning a Grand Slam for her first WTA tour-level title last year, Iga Swiatek, was asked about the importance of achieving success in WTA tournaments like this week Adelaide, where she’s reached Saturday’s championship match:

“It was my goal from the beginning of the season. I want to be, like, more consistent player, just play good week by week. I know it’s impossible sometimes. You’re just going to get tired at some point.

“But I felt pretty good from the beginning of the tournament. It’s really important for me. Just I feel that it’s going to be easier year by year because I’m going to be, like, more grown up, I’m going to be able to physically and mentally handle tournaments every week.

“Yeah, it was my goal, so I’m pretty happy everything worked here. Hopefully other WTA tournaments I’m going to be able to do that also.”