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Friday, 14 August 2015 15:12 PM BST
Bencic flourishing with the 'Hingis connection'
Wimbledon.com talks to rising teenage star Belinda Bencic, who is making quite a name for herself... READ MORE

Wimbledon.com talks to rising teenage star Belinda Bencic, who is making quite a name for herself...

Forget winning a Grand Slam. Forget cracking the Top 10. Forget making the Forbes list of highest-paid athletes (at least for the moment). You really haven’t succeeded in women’s tennis today until you’ve made it on WTA Reactions.

This is, as most of the sport’s aficionados know by now, the Twitter feed that mines the tour’s outbursts, pratfalls, eye rolls, and death glares for GIF comedy gold. Serena Williams is a regular subject, of course, though the ever-dramatic Alizé Cornet of France is its patron saint. The most recent addition to the WTA Reaction stable has been 18-year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. No stranger to mid-match emotional eruptions, she has been caught on the site being scolded by a “mean girl” chair umpire, sending an extra-long stare across the net, and thanking the heavens for helping her “finally get a challenge right.” Like any good teenager, she’s happy to give herself a retweet.

Bencic, of course, has been having her share of success away from Twitter as well. She reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open last year. She won her first tournament, in Eastbourne, this summer. She’s cracked the Top 20. And this week she has reached the quarterfinals at a tournament in Toronto that included 16 of the tour’s Top 17 players. Bencic is still young, but she’s one of the rare teenagers on either the men’s or women’s side who has established herself at the highest-level events.

According to her, life on tour still seems to be half reality, half fantasy-land. She’s one of the girls, yet still a little in awe of them.

“I beat three very good players who I was watching on TV when I was small,” Bencic said of her wins this week over Genie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki, and Sabine Lisicki. “So it’s like a dream coming true right now, being one of them and beating them and being in the quarterfinals here.”

Bencic’s win over Lisicki in a third-set tiebreaker on Thursday may have been the most impressive of those victories. After losing the second set 6-1, falling behind in the third, and eventually facing a match point, she appeared to be on the verge of making her exit. Going out to a much more experienced player after two solid wins would have been a respectable result. But Bencic found a way around the bigger-hitting German and snuck through in the tiebreaker. When the match was on the line, it was Bencic who was appeared to the more experienced, and much headier, player.

“I am like that. I get frustrated really fast, but I also calm down really fast,” Bencic said later. For a teenager, she has a solid sense of herself, of her strengths and weaknesses.

Bencic, it seems, has always been good at winning. A couple of years ago, I watched her play a junior match on a side court at the Australian Open; for most of it, she seemed to be completely overmatched by her more powerful opponent, but when the two players shook hands, Bencic was the winner. She had found a way to win the points that mattered. And that’s what she did against Lisicki, another opponent who seemed to be too strong for her.

In that sense, Bencic is a Martina Hingis for the modern day. This is hardly a surprise, considering that Hingis’s mother, Melanie Molitor, is one of her coaches, and Hingis herself sits in her player’s boxes during matches. Bencic has the same anticipation and court sense as her countrywoman, and the same knack for moving forward, taking the ball early, and robbing her opponents of time. Bencic, like all natural born tennis players, never appears to be off-balance or rushed. But where the undersized Hingis was largely a reactive player, the 5’9” Bencic can match the pace of most of her opponents. And her court sense includes an advanced knowledge of when and how to change the direction of the ball, something that’s fast becoming a necessity in today’s game.

“She teaches me all of the technique and all of the basics,” Bencic says of Molitor. “And then I have Martina [at] at the tournaments to do the tactical part. She knows all of the players and helps me really in the moment, in the situation, so it’s like a great combo, I think.”

The Hingis connection has helped Bencic mature quickly on court, and may have also helped her acclimate to tour life as well. Bencic, whose easygoing off-court personality and sense of humour come across well in English, is not a tennis robot. As she says, she’s “like, overall.”

“I really learned through all the tournaments to be, to like a lot in life,” she said this week. “How to travel, how to go in hotels. Really, I’m like overall, so tennis is a really good life, like life school. And I’m very thankful that I got in the situation that I have a great chance in life to make something big.”

Bencic will get her next chance to make something big on Friday night, when she plays Ana Ivanovic. It will be an interesting gauge for the teen; Ivanovic beat her easily last year, but you would expect this match to be much closer.

Whatever happens in Toronto, Bencic will have her ups and downs; in this era of big-name dominance, all young players progress in stops and starts. After her quarterfinal run at Flushing Meadows last year, Bencic began 2015 in a slump, and even this week her game has fluctuated from set to set—one good one is still often followed by a bad one. As she says, she gets frustrated quickly, and calms down quickly.

In her first round, against Genie Bouchard, Bencic blew a lead and a match point and lost the second set. She bounced her racquet on the court, screamed at herself between points, and stared at her player’s box in disbelief. But when she sat down on the changeover between sets, Bencic started nodding her head to the music coming through the loudspeakers, and she smiled at something she saw on the big screen at the far end of the court. The squandered second set seemed all but forgotten. If WTA Reactions had caught the moment, it might have come with this caption: “Sometimes being a teenager has its advantages.”