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Inspired by Federer, Bencic eyes Serena upset

Switzerland's Belinda Bencic poses for a photo at a promotional event for the upcoming Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Switzerland's Belinda Bencic poses for a photo at a promotional event for the upcoming Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - It was when she spotted Roger Federer pretending to play the bongo drums during one of her matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth this month that Belinda Bencic really knew she was having fun.

And that fun, combined with a few tips from the record 17-time grand-slam winner, has left the 19-year-old in the mood to cause Serena Williams a few problems when they meet in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.

"That was the best thing," Bencic said, laughing at the memory of Federer hamming it up with some shadow drumming. "I won like four games (in a row) after that."

Bencic, a former junior Wimbledon and French Open champion, combined with Federer to make a formidable mixed doubles partnership.

Spending time with the 35-year-old former world number one n inspired Bencic and renewed her belief that she can climb back up the rankings from her current mark of 59th after a frustrating 2016 season interrupted by a number of injuries.

"He's very fun," said Bencic, who peaked at seventh in the world before the injury problems and dropped out of the top 50 this week.

"We got to know each other and he gave me advice, tips. He's such a relaxed and nice person, off the court, he makes you relaxed."

The tips were wide ranging.

"How to set up your team, how to deal with the media, injuries, dealing with losing, with pressure, everything. It was great."

Williams, a six-times champion in Melbourne, is the clear favourite for their first-round match but Bencic plans to draw on her victory when they played in Canada in 2015.

"At the start of that match not much went right but I was just trying to hang in there, enjoy being on the court against her, play good rallies, good shots and always fight," Bencic said of her 3-6 7-5 6-4 win.

"She had a (bad) phase and that's when I could turn it around.

"In the third set, I was leading very much but I was aware, she's Serena, she always turns it around. Until the last point, I didn't expect it could actually happen."

Having recovered from her injury problems of 2016, Bencic has a renewed appreciation of how fortunate she is to be playing tennis for a living.

"I think a lot of players realise that later (in their careers)," she said.

"I was so young and I didn't enjoy it really. I was stressing out, having pressure with the ranking.

"My career was going up and there is a point where you have to deal with the expectations.

"Then I felt a little different, I got injured, I was not in a very good mood, not very happy and when I came back I put too much pressure on myself.

"Now I just want to stay healthy and enjoy tennis, don't look at the ranking, don't try to defend points."

(Reporting by Simon Cambers; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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