The scene was reminiscent of Martina Hingis versus Venus Williams, circa 1997.
A teenage Swiss taking on a teenage American, both highly-touted prospects emerging on the professional tour and enjoying immediate success despite their tender years. The American relying on her explosive movement and impressive power from the back of the court; the Swiss, under-powered on serve, instead winning with excellent anticipation and canny point construction.
Except that it was a match between Swiss Belinda Bencic and American Victoria Duval, and much like those late 1990s battles between Hingis and Williams, it was the Swiss coming out on top, winning 6-4, 7-5 to advance to the third round for the first time at a major.
“I wanted to enjoy the moment for sure, but also I felt a little bit pressure because I was better ranked player (at No.71, to Duval’s 114th) in this match. I just tried to focus my match and not to think about against who I play,” she said.
“I think I'm more experienced on the WTA Tour. Before I was just on the junior level and I didn't play so much WTA matches. Now I think I'm more consistent in everything.”
Bencic, just 17, regularly consults with Hingis’s mother and coach Melanie Molitor. Like Hingis, she is Swiss with Slovak ancestry, and plays with a Yonex racquet. Hingis was even watching in the stands on Court 18 as Bencic battled Duval, an 18-year-old Haitian-American who wears Williams’ clothing line EleVen.
Duval may not quite as powerful and athletic as Venus, and Bencic possesses perhaps a little more pop on her ground-strokes compared to Hingis. The result was an evenly-matched and entertaining affair, and proof that the future of women’s tennis – Bencic and Duval are just two players among an exciting crop of teens and 20-year-olds coming through on the women’s tour – is heading in an exciting direction.
Duval’s running forehand was a major weapon early on in the match, and she used it to help her build a 3-1 advantage in the opening set. But once Bencic settled, she was the more consistent and effective player. Cleverly manoeuvring the ball around the court, she never gave Duval a look at the same ball twice, and the American responded with copious errors. Bencic reeled off four straight games to lead 5-3, but as she served for the set, this was precisely the moment Duval rediscovered her range, and she belted a pair of winners to break serve.
Again came a lapse from the American; she double-faulted to give Bencic a set point, and when the Swiss mis-hit a return on the next point to send the ball dropping awkwardly from a height on the baseline, Duval misjudged her shot, found the net, and handed Bencic the set.
The second set mirrored the first, with Duval jumping out to a 3-1 lead. Bencic’s consistency deserted her during this period, and she chastised herself in frustration. But her maturity for her age is astonishing, and she quickly shrugged off her annoyance and focused on re-establishing herself in the match. A settling hold at love in the fifth game – punctuated with a forehand winner – followed by a service break saw her level scores.
With games then progressing on serve, Bencic looked the most likely to break the pattern when she arrived at match point in the 10th game. Duval – in a play reminiscent of Williams – swung for the fences when she was down, and produced a couple of winners to hold for 5-5.
Yet it was where her resistance would end. Bencic held to push ahead 6-5, and reached 0-40 thanks to a forcing crosscourt forehand that drew an error from Duval. The Swiss then repeated the feat on the very next point and held her arms aloft in celebration, her progression to the last 32 secured.
Last year, Bencic won the junior girls’ title at the All England Club. Just 12 months on, she finds herself, somewhat incredibly, taking on Simona Halep for a place in the second week of the ladies’ event. “I don't know if (my rapid progression) is a surprise or not. I'm really happy that I could start in the main draw here after winning the juniors last year,” she said.
“She (Halep) played French Open final and she's the third seed here, so I'm really just happy to play her ... I'm going to the court and I think I have a chance to beat her and I really want to win. So I will just have no pressure, but I will try to give my best and fight.”
Caroline Garcia and Lauren Davis, both 20 years old, were unable to boost the number of youngsters advancing at Wimbledon on Friday.
Garcia, the world No.46, pushed Ekaterina Makarova, the No.22 seed, in the first set but found the Russian too strong and steady, going down 7-5, 6-3. Garcia had earlier upset No.14 seed Sara Errani, but admitted that grass is a tricky surface for her to navigate.
“I don't know if I can be more successful on grass than the other surface, but always take me a lot of time to adapt my game for the grass. If I can serve better, of course I can play better on this surface. But sometimes my forehand don't push too much the opponent on the grass,” she lamented.
Davis looked headed for the fourth round when she took the opening set 6-0 over China’s Peng Shuai.
But the former world No.14 steadied in the second set, wearing the diminutive American down with her double-fisted strokes to level the match.
In the third set, Davis battled extremely hard and managed to extend the set for 60 minutes, but it was not enough to halt Peng’s progression; the Chinese player won 0-6, 6-3, 6-3.
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