Belinda Bencic pulled out all the stops to remain the strongest one at the finish line Monday night. The Swiss powerhouse went the distance with Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Mutua Madrid Open to win 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-3 on Arantxa Sanchez Court at La Caja Magica. It marked the 22-year old’s 23rd match win this season and the second straight in the tournament.
The duo met twice more than three years ago, with each splitting wins on the hard courts in Asia. Both would get the feel for one another meeting on clay where the Russian has had the time on court but hasn't been consistent. Bencic felt good going into Stuttgart but went down to a stronger clay court expert in the second round. With a good win against Alison Van Uytvanck, the 22-year-old looked to dig in and try to bring another one after winning her first ever in the Spanish capital.
She began with an early attack of Kuznetsova but failed to lock down the two break point opportunities she had. The Swiss star made up for it by scoring a serve to love, showing her power was in gear. It allowed her to keep the pressure on the Russian and achieve the break to lead after three. When the score was 3-1 in favor of Bencic, Kuznetsova brushed off the early mistakes and rallied back to stay within one.
By the eighth, Kuznetsova was dead even with a break of Bencic to serve for the lead. The tennis veteran put a big hit on the first serve for the game point that came back quickly and long to give her the 5-4 stance. While it seemed that Kuznetsova’s coaching call did her well, Bencic decided to do the same with one shot to even things back and keep the set going. She did just that by holding off Kuznetsova in the tenth to set up a pivotal fight for the lead.
They both resulted in holding serve that led to the tiebreak which saw Kuznetsova getting the jump on Bencic with a 3-1 lead with a break in hand. Bencic answered back by recovering to break back and even at three-all. The Swiss star let a point go but leveled at four apiece and then took the lead with a double break. She reached four straight points to win 7-4 to bring the set to a close in 49 minutes.
After such a close set slipping out of her hands, Kuznetsova made an early push and broke Bencic to do it. The 33-year-old consolidated the break with a hold before Bencic got on the board. Kuznetsova returned her two-game buffer on the Swiss player who wasn’t pleased by the end of the fourth. In an effort to turn things around, Bencic rallied to force deuce on serve but got into a lengthy draw for the end result. They went four breaks with Kuznetsova denying her opponent two chances to end it before getting her opportunities to score a second break.
When it looked as if Bencic was out, she made the sixth hers to win, securing the breakpoint to break back. Kuznetsova didn’t let giving up a second game to her opponent bother her and clinched the double break to sit up 5-2 to serve for the set. Bencic remained on the defensive and played each and every point with the Russian. When she had a break chance, the 33-year-old saved the game to force deuce which saw her have enough in the tank to be the heavy hitter. On her second set point attempt, Kuznetsova scored the chance to play a decider after 37 minutes.
Kuznetsova did a number on her opponent’s service game that saw her scoring less than 50 percent on both the first and second serves. Bencic had to step up in order to be the one in charge during the third set. She got into a defensive stance and held off the Russian through two breaks of deuce to hold. A break gave the Swiss star a 2-0 lead that soon began a run of breaks with one another.
It wasn’t till the seventh when Bencic was well ahead of Kuznetsova with a serve to love to play for the match. The Russian wasn’t going to give it to her on serve and locked it down with the big forehand.
Bencic still had a two-game margin and put together an aggressive game of tennis that forced errors from the 33-year-old. She quickly reached three match points with her shots hitting the line that eventually pressured Kuznetsova to err, ending a two and six-minute battle.
Improvements had certainly come to light for the world number 18 winning six of nine from the second serve and two aces at the end of the match. With the difficulty well in play for Bencic, she would take a day off before awaiting the winner between Karolina Pliskova and Kateryna Kozlova in the round of 16 Wednesday.Published 07 May 2019, 08:41 IST