This time last summer, Belinda Bencic was still trying to figure it all out.
Once labeled the future of women’s tennis, Bencic’s promising career had been derailed by a series of injuries, including a wrist injury in 2017 that caused her to miss five months and fall outside the top 300.
She lost in the first round of last year’s U.S. Open and as recently as last fall found herself bouncing between WTA events and lesser tournaments in places like Tyler, Texas.
Fast forward to Wednesday and the Swiss 22-year-old was all smiles after earning a berth in the U.S. Open semifinals after beating Donna Vekic, 7-6 (5), 6-3,.
“Honestly, going through the tough times helped me see a different perspective for tennis,” Bencic said afterward “Sometimes, you take it for granted. When you can’t play, you miss it so much. I am just enjoying tennis so much now.”
Bencic, who defeated top seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka in the fourth round two days earlier, will be making her first appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal.
Thursday’s match was her second trip to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. Her first came in 2014, shortly after beating Taylor Townsend in the Wimbledon girls final. Bencic has admitted that there were times in the intervening years when she wasn’t sure if she would be back here again.
“Well, I was dreaming, of course, about this day coming, but you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “You’re not thinking about it. You’re just right in the moment. Either you’re practicing or focusing on your match.
“I worked hard for this. It’s not like I never imagined I could do this. Still, like, I stayed in the moment. Yeah, very nice feeling.”
Wednesday’s quarterfinal against the Croatian Vekic was the fourth meeting between the two friends and frequent hitting partners with Bencic now owning a 3-1 edge.
Bencic was the first player to have her serve broken when a backhand error gave Vekic a 5-4 lead in the first set. Bencic immediately broke back, and after both players held serve, Bencic won a 7-5 tiebreaker.
Bencic then broke open a close match midway through the second set when she won eight straight points. That sparked her to win the final four games of the match and finally propel her career past the point it was at five years ago.
“I think she was just playing better tennis overall today,” Vekic said. “I felt like I couldn’t get three good points together. I was, like, playing one point good, then bad. I didn’t really have a lot of rhythm out there today.”
Bencic will play Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who topped 25th seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, Wednesday night. Andreescu, 19, the 15th seed, likely will break into the top 10 at the end of the Open. Neither Bencic nor Andreescu has reached a Grand Slam final.
Said Bencic: “It feels amazing. For sure, it’s something that didn’t come from nothing. I still worked very hard for it. I feel like I kind of deserve this. It’s a nice feeling.”