Belinda Bencic Adopts Martina Hingis' Winning Formula At US Open
NEW YORK -- She has emerged from a draw loaded with upsets, riding a wave of youthful energy with a familiar precedent.
Belinda Bencic calls her berth in the US Open quarterfinals at age 17 "insane." But as the student of Melanie Molitor, who not so coincidentally is the mother and former coach of Martina Hingis, the Open champion at 16 in 1997, it all somehow makes perfect sense.
Early in the tournament, American CiCi Bellis drew widespread attention for her victory at age 15 over 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova.
"I think there [are] opportunities," said Hingis, 33, a five-time Grand Slam singles champ and former No. 1 playing in women's doubles here. "There's options for young players who have the game and can produce great tennis and actually show they can beat players out there.
"It's not easy for the top players to play a youngster, too. There is a lot of pressure and you have nerves ... "
Bencic is the youngest US Open quarterfinalist since Hingis in '97, and the youngest to reach a Grand Slam quarter since Nicole Vaidisova at the 2006 French Open.
"I definitely didn't feel any pressure because it was my first time on the Arthur Ashe in the night session," Bencic said. "So I really just tried to enjoy it. I think she had all the pressure because she needed to win. Yeah, I could just enjoy."
Bencic next meets unseeded Peng Shuai, also playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, for a berth in the semis.
Like Bellis, Bencic was a highly regarded junior, winning both the French Open and Wimbledon juniors just last year. But unlike Bellis, ranked 1,028th when the tournament started, Bencic began the year ranked 212th and, with performances like a semifinal berth at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina, is now ranked a career-high 58th.
"I am now more calm on the tight situations," Bencic said. "Before I was a little bit more nervous and I thought I need to use all these chances. But now I just don't focus on the score and I play like it's a normal point. So I think it has a lot to do with experience I have made in a lot of matches."
Bencic is the youngest player in the top 100.
"Yeah, the last 12 months were really great for me," she said. "I improved my ranking always, slowly, step by step, so I think that was very good. ... I just started believing in myself, and now I -- I don't know."
Sometimes the "I don't know" is the biggest part of it, the go-for-broke, anything-is-possible quality to the young breakouts that allows them to play pressure-free.
In comparing Bencic's technique to her own, Hingis said her young protégé has a great backhand but is stronger than she was, a "better mover," and hits more winners than she remembers hitting at Bencic's age.
"Also, the big difference is like the belief that you can actually win against big players, great players, seeded players in Grand Slams," Hingis said. "I'm very happy for her that she [has been] able to do that."
Bencic has at least one other older player rooting for her.
"I think it's great," Serena Williams said of Bencic's run of success. "I think she can go all the way. It's really good to see her doing well. She's an amazingly nice, beautiful person both inside and out. I really like her. I just think it's good for tennis. She's extremely exciting to watch. I love watching her play."
Bencic, who said she enjoys playing on hard courts, also thrives on the noisy atmosphere here and, like Bellis, said she loves playing in front of big crowds.
"I think there is huge potential for her," Hingis said. "I mean, I definitely think she can be top 5. She's on the way to get there. How far, it's up to her. You know, nobody can play the matches for her and win matches, win the tournaments. But she [has] showed that she can win a big match when she has to. Hopefully there will be more opportunities in the near future. Maybe here, you know."