By Ros Satar, in Birmingham
- Fourth seed Belinda Bencic looks to have overcome her back injury as she started the grass season strongly
- Seeking back to back wins in Birmingham for the first time
- Talks self-belief… and Grey’s Anatomy in her All-Access pre-tournament press conference
BIRMINGHAM, UK – Fourth seed Belinda Bencic looks set to erase two years of early exits at the Aegon Classic.
Despite a tough start to her campaign in s’Hertogenbosch, the Swiss teen kept her nerve to make a strong run to the semi-final after a back injury kept her off the tour for almost all of the clay court season.
A thumping loss to Elena Vesnina in her opening round at Charleston signalled the start of a lay-off that only saw her able to start training again during the Rome tournament. While she could have played at Roland Garros, she opted instead to plan her come-back around the grass.
She told reporters: “Physically I would have been ready for Roland Garros, but I didn’t go because I wasn’t well prepared. I didn’t play for five weeks so I could not just go there and expect to be able to play with the top players, so it didn’t make sense and I didn’t want to go there. Wouldn’t be professional.”
There is something about grass and Swiss players, but it always is a source of amusement, given that they have predominantly clay courts, and the only grass is for the cows.
She laughed: “No – we don’t have grass in Switzerland,” before explaining: “I practiced on clay because we have such a bad clay court at our club, that it was really similar to the grass, like the low bounce, so we did that.
“I think it’s not important what you practice, but for what surface you practice. You can make drills around your practice so it seems like it’s for grass, on any surface.”
Having been an outstanding junior, she has risen swiftly up the senior ranks, winning her first title in Eastbourne, with a hard fought victory over the far more seasoned grass court talents of Agnieszka Radwanska.
Maybe more impressively though, she backed that up with a win later in the year over Serena Williams in Toronto, before lifting her second WTA title with a win over a retiring Simona Halep.
She said: “I think it was just the belief that I really could start to beat all these players. I never doubted that maybe at some point I will, I have a chance. I mean I always worked hard to be among of all these players.
“I wasn’t really surprised that I’m there, but how fast I would be there, so that’s what’s surprised me. But I’m really happy how I handled myself in the pressure situations and yeah it was a great experience and a great feeling when you win against such a good player.”
Talking about her semi-final win over Williams in particular, she continued: “I think the first time I played her it was definitely I had too much respect, I was like ‘oh my god it’s Serena’. I was so nervous and just so almost too respectful to be on the same court with her. In Toronto I just tried to ignore who she is, and just to play my game against her.
“Obviously I think the key was also that I never kind of felt safe in the match. Always I had 4-0, 5-1 but I still like, I didn’t feel ok because Serena always turns matches like this around. That’s why when was the match point and I won, I actually couldn’t believe it because I wasn’t thinking of really beating her. I just played it point after point.”
She is an intriguing mix of youthful confidence but also caution in wanting to set too high a bar for herself. In a year that has seen two brand new members of the Grand Slam club, Bencic really has as good a chance as anyone to make a claim on the Venus Rosewater Dish, the iconic gilded Wimbledon platter.
Did it give her confidence to see Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza claim the honours this year?
“Yeah, and I beat both of them (laughs). I mean it’s very positive also for the other players because you feel like you really can do it as well, some day. And you see them and the big emotions and it’s just like a really nice feeling and I’m really happy for both of them, that they reached it. I think it’s good to know that anyone can win a grand slam, and maybe also me one day.”
She is scheduled to play on Tuesday but with a day delayed by four hours by rain, and the schedule cut short by more of the demon wet-stuff, like many players she whiles away the hours catching up on her favourite program, Grey’s Anatomy, although confessed it is irritating to be called to court half way through an episode!
“Oh that’s the most annoying thing ever (laughs). Then I’m like on the court I’m like ‘oh my god what’s gonna happen?’
“But what else can you do. You have to rest somehow, you have to be prepared. It’s very difficult, but it’s for everyone the same, so you just have to deal with it better than your opponent.”
Bencic will start her campaign against Irina-Camelia Begu.
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