Belinda Bencic won a very close match at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy Wednesday night. The number one seed was threatened in the late stages of each set but came ahead against Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6(4), 6-4 at Sibur Arena.
The two were meeting for the fourth time, with Bencic holding the series lead since her victory in Madrid last year. While that match was on clay, they had split the two hardcourt matches that date back four years.
With Bencic on the rise as world number five and the top seed, she was favored to down the Russian veteran.
The Swiss suffered a loss of serve at the start but broke back to get on level terms. When she returned to serve, the 22-year-old held firm and allowed the Russian just one point in the game.
The fourth game saw Bencic fight for a break chance, completing a 26-shot rally with Kuznetsova that forced deuce. She took the game for a 3-1 lead, but the 34-year-old broke back to remain within reach of the Swiss.
Kuznetsova consolidated the break with a hold in the sixth, leveling the score at three-all. Bencic later had a chance to serve for the set, but three straight errors negated that and instead left the door open to extend the set in Kuznetsova’s favor.
Bencic then produced a hold to love, adding pressure on Kuznetsova who was serving to stay alive in the set. But the Russian’s first serve did enough to force more games in the set.
Kuznetsova scored a critical break on Bencic to take a 6-5 lead, but some strong crosscourt returns by Bencic in the next game set up a pivotal tiebreak. Bencic continued with the same patterns on the return that pushed her ahead 3-0.
The Swiss soon had four set points but lost two of them when Kuznetsova got her serve back. A perfect moment for Bencic arrived when a ball near the net gave her the chance to smash it, clinching the first set in 56 minutes.
The second was highly competitive too, with the players holding serve through the first pair of games. The third was the longest of the match, lasting six and a half minutes, before Kuznetsova could walk away with it.
The holds continued through the sixth before Bencic pounced with a break in the following game. Kuznetsova then called down her coach Javier Piles who told her to make some adjustments and hit harder with the forehand.
Bencic gained her biggest lead of the match on serve by moving into the court for some easy putaways. But Kuznetsova refused to concede in the ninth, notching up a hold to love with terrific cross-court winners.
Serving for the match, Bencic found herself trailing 15-40 but managed to come back and force deuce. The number one seed gained her only match point with the second serve doing the work, watching the return go into the net to finish the contest after 1 hour and 43 minutes.
“I knew it was going to be a very tough match against Sveta,” replied Bencic when asked about the match. “I motivated myself not to choke on those forehands,” she said. “Sometimes tennis is a mental game and once your head is free, things start working out and I’m glad that I fought against myself.”Published 13 Feb 2020, 01:09 IST