Dubai Tennis: Belinda Bencic soars to win title - and book date at Skydive Dubai
Swiss wins first title in almost four years after prolonged spells of injury, beating Petra Kvitova in three sets in the final
Given her game is most definitely trending upwards, Belinda Bencic will be thankful she has a head for heights.
Shame, though, about her dad.
The Swiss sensation marked her return to the big time on Saturday night, claiming a first victory against Petra Kvitova to secure the Dubai Dubai Free Tennis Championships title.
Outlasting the Australian Open finalist 6-3, 1-6, 6-2, Bencic sealed the third WTA crown of a still-embryonic career that first promised much before being beset by injury. Subsequently, the gap between trophy No 2 and No 3 spanned almost four years.
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That gave plenty of time, however, for Bencic to make a pact with her father. The agreement was that, should she win on circuit again, she could go skydiving.
Now Ivan Bencic, reinstated as Belinda’s coach last October, will have to keep his part in the deal – albeit rather reluctantly.
“We are in the plane anyway all the time, so …” Bencic joked after the most memorable of wins. “My dad is saying, ‘Why risk your life’, stuff like that. There is no risk, I think. Bunjee jumping is worse.
“Skydiving, it's on my to-do list. We have to do it anyway in my life, so we can do it now. It's the first thing we will do in the morning. I'm providing a lot of heart attacks on the court. Now I'm going to provide them off the court.”
Skydiving aside, Bencic concluded a remarkable week’s work on a real high. In defeating Kvitova, the 21-year-old battled past a fourth top-10 player in Dubai, a run that included climbing back from six match points against Aryna Sabalenka in the last-16, seeing off reigning French Open champion Simona Halep in the quarters, then dispatching two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina in the last four.
Against Kvitova, the double Wimbledon champion seeking a second Dubai success and 27th career title in all, Bencic laid down an immediate marker. She broke in the opening game of the night. She did it twice more to take the first set in 40 minutes.
Despite having been taken to three sets in all of her previous matches this week, Kvitova responded. This time, she broke twice early in the second set, with a third drawing level the match, only 26 minutes after she went a set down.
But a crucial break for Bencic in the third game of the decider, followed by another to go 5-2 up, pulled the title within touching distance. She then converted a second championship point to clinch victory against Kvitova at the fourth time of asking – previously she had never taken even a set off the Czech – and a Sunday date at Skydive Dubai.
“It's unbelievable; it's incredible,” Bencic beamed. “I still cannot believe it. Especially I'm realising after two rounds, we were already saying, ‘Wow, this is a great tournament. Now it's only bonus’.
“Then I won against Sabalenka after being out already. We said the same thing again. Really, the expectations after two rounds were not there any more. So many times I was close from defeat. It's unbelievable that I ended up winning this.”
In the end, and for the first time this week, Kvitova had no response.
“It was kind of an up-and-down match today,” she said. “She came strong. I came strong in the second. The third I played a really bad game.
“I don't know. I just felt that I'm really getting better, that I'm playing better. But in the specific moment in the third set, I just didn't do the best.”
But the night - the tournament - belonged to Bencic.
For a former world No 7 who at one point had slipped outside the top 300, she will sit proudly at No 23 when the new rankings are released on Monday. It is testament to her mettle. To her recent rude health, too.
“This is definitely the fittest I've ever felt,” Bencic said. “It's showing a lot in my game. I definitely need it. I think we did amazing work over there last year. Martin [Hromkovic] is my fitness coach for the past year now. We did amazing work. It showed.”
Updated: February 24, 2019 02:49 PM