Belinda Bencic leads spate of upsets
In 1997 Martina Hingis won three Grand Slams: the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The 16-year-old from Switzerland stormed a tennis world that had been dominated by Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, and her feet and her feats earned her the moniker "Swiss Miss."
In March 1997, about two months after Hingis won her first major, Belinda Bencic was born in Flawil, Switzerland. Friday, at age 17, Bencic won her third-round match at the U.S. Open, rather convincingly defeating the seventh-ranked player in the world, Angelique Kerber, 6-1, 7-5. Will Bencic be "Swiss Miss II"?
Hingis had already achieved greatness before she turned 17 in September 1997, so Bencic has a long way to go. And Hingis, playing doubles here, is far more than inspiration for Bencic.
"I'm practicing [with] her since I'm a little kid, so she knows me really well," Bencic said after she ousted the Open's No. 6 seed. "I have never practiced [with] someone else, I am really believing in this way. It's working great, and always when we are back home I am practicing with her."
Hingis was a clever, brainy player. She didn't overwhelm anybody with power, but with quick feet and a quicker mind. She played the angles as well as any player, turning geometry into a weapon. That knowledge is being passed down, much of it through Hingis' mother, Melanie Molitor, who has been coaching Bencic since childhood. But being able to play with Hingis has had a deep impact.
"Almost everything I know from her," Bencic said.
Bencic wasn't the only player to scramble the women's draw Friday. Qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia knocked out the second seed, Simona Halep, 7-6 (6), 6-2. Peng Shuai continued a somewhat surprising run by eliminating the No. 28 seed, Roberta Vinci, 6-4, 6-3. In the late match, No. 5 Maria Sharapova defeated No. 26 Sabine Lisicki, 6-2, 6-4.
Lucic-Baroni is a 32-year-old without any eye-popping success, though 15 years ago in her second full season she made it to the Wimbledon semis.
And at the age of 15 in 1998 she won the Australian Open doubles title. Her partner? Martina Hingis.
Her career has been fraught with personal problems and injuries, including excruciating back pain and a herniated disc in her neck. With three qualifying matches and three main- draw matches, she's been able to play pretty much without pain. "I'm still able to move great and feel great physically," she said. "Yeah, I'm so happy."
"Everything was in for her," said Halep, who's had her finest season by reaching the quarters at Australia, the semis at Wimbledon and losing the French Open final to Sharapova. "It wasn't my best day, but I still did everything I could. She was better than me today."
There was a similar response from Kerber.
"It was not a day I played my best tennis for sure,"Kerber said. "I had my chances and didn't take it, and she played better in the bigger moments. For sure she played a great match and she is a good player, from the first point [she] played very aggressive tennis. She was fighting and hitting her serve. She will play great tennis in the future, that is for sure. I can just say for me I was not there."