Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Belinda Bencic Q&A: Dubai champion aims to create more happy memories at US Open

Reem Abulleil speaks to the world No 12 ahead of the US Open in New York City

Belinda Bencic reached the quarter-finals of the US Open five years ago when she was just 17. EPA
Belinda Bencic reached the quarter-finals of the US Open five years ago when she was just 17. EPA

She’s posted more top-10 and top-five wins than any other woman on tour this season, and has risen from 55 to 12 in the world since the start of the year.

Her 37 victories, against just 15 losses, place her among the top five on the WTA match-wins leaderboard in 2019 and she’s currently No 7 on the Porsche Race to Shenzhen standings.

After an early breakthrough that took her to the world’s top 10 at just 18, followed by serious injury woes that threatened her career, 22-year-old Belinda Bencic is back on track, winning titles, threatening the big guns and hungry for more success.

The National caught up with the talented Swiss, who won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship earlier this year, in New York ahead of her US Open first-round match against Mandy Minella.

You had a phenomenal week in Dubai earlier this year, lifting your first title since Toronto 2015 by ousting four top-10 players. How important was that run for you?

It was definitely a confidence boost for sure. I think I started really believing that I can beat anybody and I’m back to being on my game, so it definitely gave me a big boost winning Dubai. And I continued to get good results after, so it's definitely my greatest memory and just a big kick-off.

You had to retire with a foot injury in Cincinnati. How are you feeling ahead of your US Open first round against Mandy Minella?

I'm feeling better. We were working really hard to [recover] and doing a lot of rehab, so I'm going to see how it goes. I'm still practicing very safe so I don't overdo it but still I have to practice. I'm doing everything to be at my best.

You made the US Open quarter-finals on your debut five years ago when you were just 17. Does that feel like a lifetime ago, or are the memories still vivid?

It's still vivid in my memory for sure but I was very young then, so I don't have all the memories, but on the court, yes. I just feel generally good here in the conditions. I like the courts, I like the speed of it. I feel like I'm playing well here. You can feel right away when you go to a tournament how you feel in practice, so it's definitely a tournament I enjoy. Obviously New York City is my favourite city, so that gives me good vibes as well.

What’s the biggest difference between the Belinda who was ranked in the top-10 as an 18-year-old and the Belinda right now?

I think before it was just that I was not thinking, I was a junior just enjoying playing tennis, and everything was very new. So when you came to a tournament, you were just happy to be here and you play your tennis. And after you start thinking a little bit more, the pressure comes, you don't feel like you have something to lose, you don't feel like you can only win. Now I feel like I forgot that mentality, so I'm trying to enjoy again and try to be like how I was when I was a junior - so not take it too seriously and don't be too stiff and to try very hard.

Since you broke through at quite a young age, looking back, is there anything you know now that you would’ve done differently?

No definitely not. I think every person who is happy with their life, they would say they wouldn't change anything because really something bad is always for something good. I had some time to understand it, and when you're in a bad moment you don't know it but after when you look, you always see the benefit of this bad moment. I think when you go one step back and two steps in front, it's a good thing. So I'm sure there is no person that did everything right in their life but I think you can be happy anyway.

Your build-up to the US Open may have not been ideal, but you’ve still racked up a lot of wins on tour this season, do you feel confident heading into New York?

I'm feeling still very confident. I lost in Toronto to the No 6 in the world [Elina Svitolina], which is not a big drama and she's playing great tennis. In Cincinnati, unfortunately I was injured, but I played so many matches in the first half of the season, so I don't think my match play or my confidence is a problem. It's not like the years before, I don't get down on myself if I lose one, two, three matches.

The No 1 spot has switched hands a few times this year, between Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty. Do you feel you’re close to being part of that conversation?

Yes, I think so. I think now the top is not unreachable like when Serena [Williams] was dominating. Now I think the top is right there in front of you, if you have one or two [grand] slams, or one, two, three good tournaments, you are there, so I think it's very close together and there is no rule who's beating who, and who is the favourite. Anybody can lose first round, anybody can win the tournament, that's how it is today.

Updated: August 27, 2019 10:02 AM

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