Australian Open 2016 rising star Bencic wins

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland follows through in her third-round match against Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine. Photo: Michael DodgeA year ago Belinda Bencic walked, barely noticed, out of the Australian Open after the first round. It was not a surprise.

The teenager had abundant promise but was callow and unready. Julia Goerges wiped her.

In the year since she has played five women ranked in the top five. She won every match. She beat Caroline Wozniacki three times, Simona Halep once and, best of all, Serena Williams was the other one.

Serena only lost six times last year. One of those was to Bencic.

From being a qualifier in 2015 she arrived at this year’s Open seeded 12. On Friday she accounted for Kateryna Bondarenko in three sets 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 and will now play last year’s runner-up Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.

“I’m very happy to play all these big players. That’s what I play for. For sure, I will prepare good and just be really excited,” Bencic said.

“I just feel like I’m not as nervous when I go to the court any more. I mean, when I played last year I was very nervous. I didn’t really know what to do on the court. Now I’ve got a lot of confidence.

“When I go to the court, I stay more calm and really try to think more about what I have to do. For sure, I think my serve has got better, which helps a lot in the game.”

In the seemingly unchanging narrative of modern tennis Bencic arrives – with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in the men’s game – as the face of the next generation. The narrative is not radically different though: Bencic is Swiss.

To Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka and from Martina Hingis before that now the Swiss add Bencic. It is not a massive plot change.

Bencic won the junior Wimbledon and French titles in 2013 and was the newcomer of the year in 2014 after she cut her ranking by 179 places to finish the year in the top 50 and came after she won her first two WTA titles. When she won the first of those titles she was the second youngest woman – Wozniacki was the youngest by 66 days – to have won a WTA premier-level title.

She made the quarter-finals of the US Open in 2014 in her first grand slam appearance and was the youngest woman to reach a US quarter-final since … Hingis, the countrywoman who routinely sits with her dad and coach, Ivan, in the players’ seats courtside.

Last year she ended the year 14th and the eyes of the world tracked her continued rise ever more closely.

“I think when you’re a good junior and you have the success early, you kind of have to learn it and you have to deal with it. You just take it as a normal thing,” she said.

“I try to really stay on the ground, stay humble. I mean, just not do everything like in press, but also let your results on the court speak a lot for you. Just mainly focus on the tennis and not on how popular you are or trying to build up your image or something.”

Hingis has helped deal with that pressure. She also follows other Hingis habits, like playing doubles in tournaments to avoid having to practise.

“No one likes to practise, I mean, when it’s really hard. It’s better to play doubles where can you have fun and still like you can try some things.”

She is still practising though, and training. She is fitter and stronger now than 12 months ago.

Since March Bencic has won every match that has gone to a third set. Friday’s was the 15th in a row. Even she was even surprised at the stat.

“Really? That’s good. That’s good. Because I was losing a lot, and then my dad and my coach were like ‘you don’t have any fitness. You have to do this and that’. Now I was like ‘see’?

“I don’t know if it’s only fitness, but also the focus and the belief that you can really play the best at the most important points and you really can’t do any stupid mistake in the third set when it’s 4-all.”

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