Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

Dubai Tennis 2019: Belinda Bencic 'didn't give up' in victory against Simona Halep

Comeback queen from Switzerland pleased as punch after she turns back time to beat world No 2 and reach semi-finals

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland celebrates after winning against Romania's Simona Halep in Dubai on Thursday night. Karim Sahib / AFP
Belinda Bencic of Switzerland celebrates after winning against Romania's Simona Halep in Dubai on Thursday night. Karim Sahib / AFP

What a 24 hours for Belinda Bencic in Dubai.

One night removed from saving six match points to book a place in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals, the Swiss star fought back from a set down to overhaul Simona Halep and stride into the last four.

Halep, the former world No 1 – she is ranked second now – and the reigning French Open champion. What is more, Halep came into the tournament off the back of a runner-up finish in Doha.

But, under the lights on Centre Court, Bencic dug deep. Dubbed the game’s next big thing having broken into the top 10 in 2016, aged 18, the current world No 45 broke twice at the start of the final set. She later dispatched Halep on the third match point to take the tie 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

After two hours and 17 minutes, she emerged victorious. It was especially impressive, given the rigours of the previous evening against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka.

“Actually, I gained a lot of confidence with this match,” a beaming Bencic said. “Physically I was feeling fine. I was not sleeping very well. But before I had a nap, I ate, had another nap, then I ate.

“The day is long when you're playing at 7pm or even later. I recovered fine. Mentally it gave me confidence. It was good.”

She was mentally tough enough to conjure another mighty effort, even against a rival of Halep’s obvious calibre. Even from a set down. With the odds seemingly stacked so high against her, how did she manage that?

“With fighting, with staying in the match,” Bencic said. “I'm happy I didn't give up. I didn't give her any free points. I was still there. Then she gave me something, as well.

“Really pleased that I made her play those shots, as well, do what she does to me. Really pleased about that.”

In the end, Halep had little to offer in return. Playing her ninth match in 13 days, the Romanian was allowed to point to cramp and a painful Achilles – something, she said, that shouldn’t affect her too long beyond Dubai.

However, Halep would not use the various aches and pains as a crutch to lean on.

“There are no excuses, just the fact that I'm tired. It's OK,” she said. “It was really difficult physically. I was tired. After the second set, I felt like I'm getting cramping a little bit. It's normal. I was sweating a lot.

Simona Halep of Romania leaves the court after losing to Switzerland's Belinda Bencic in Dubai on Thursday night. Karim Sahib / AFP
Simona Halep of Romania leaves the court after losing to Switzerland's Belinda Bencic in Dubai on Thursday night. Karim Sahib / AFP

“She played well. She played very well. In the end, she was a little bit stronger.

Still, Halep knew that, on the day, she had been beaten by a better opponent.

“She's aggressive,” the world No 2 said. “She's hitting the balls really hard no matter where she hits. This makes you to feel the pressure. I think she serves well. She's a complete player.”

Bencic must feel that after the past 24 hours. On Friday, she will play her first semi-final of a Premier event since 2016. Following the highs of three years ago, came the lows fostered by injury and an understandable loss of form.

Once as lofty as No 7, at one point she dropped outside the top 300. Now, though, the portents are promising.

“It feels great,” Bencic said. “I'm just really happy. I'm back. I knew it was still in me, even after the injuries. You cannot just come back like this and play [snapping fingers]. Otherwise, it wouldn't show how good tennis is.

“Players are playing two, three years constantly on the level, they're playing semi-finals, finals. I had to work my way back. I knew it was in me, but I'm happy that I could finally show it.”

Updated: February 21, 2019 10:51 PM

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