LINZ, Austria - Wildcard Belinda Bencic showed some vintage form to see off Kirsten Flipkens and earn her first WTA victory since March at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz.
Playing in her first WTA event since Biel/Bienne in April, Bencic needed three sets and two hours and 21 minutes to defeat Flipkens 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(7).
“I think every victory means a lot now,” Bencic reflected during her post-match press conference. “Obviously I missed these emotions so much, I realized that [while I was out injured].
“This is my third tournament back, so the important thing is not that I won, but that I can finally play. And I really appreciate that, I think I appreciate it more now.”
After a stop-start season plagued with injuries, Bencic - who took three months off following surgery to her left wrist - made a winning return to tennis at the ITF level in September, where she comes full of confidence from winning a title and reaching a semifinal.
Today’s victory against two-time Linz finalist Flipkens is just her third WTA match victory of the year - and her first since Indian Wells.
The 20-year-old made a meek start to the match as Flipkens rocketed ahead to a 5-2 lead. But just as the Belgian was looking to close out the set comfortably, Bencic seemed to roar to life as signs of her vintage form helped her deny Flipkens four set points and break back.
But Flipkens held firm in the next game and took the set on her fifth time of asking, breaking once more to close it out. Now looking completely dialed in, Bencic needed two breaks to comfortably take the second set and force a decider.
The pair were deadlocked in the final set, and both players held match point during the tense tiebreaker; Bencic earned the first one and flubbed a backhand return long, but Flipkens replied in kind by burying a forehand into the net to lose a match point of her own.
Bencic got it right the second time to close out the match and make her way into the second round. Up next, she’ll take on Lara Arruabarrena.
“I think [Flipkens] is a very tricky opponent, especially on this surface with her game,” Bencic explained. “She was playing very smart and knew what was hurting me. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t do much, it was so tactical.
“I’m happy that I just hung in there, and never let go or stopped fighting.”
Also through to the second round in Linz, Natalia Vikhlyantseva had little trouble defeating Veronica Cepede Royg, dropping just two games to win 6-0, 6-2. Johanna Larsson faced a tough challenge against Jana Cepelova, needing a tiebreak to edge through in the first set and win, 7-6(6), 6-4.
Meanwhile, No.8 seed Monica Niculescu was forced to retire against Arruabarrena, sending the Spaniard into the second round. The Romanian trailed 1-6, 6-1, 2-0 before calling a trainer and, after a medical time out, retiring from the match due to injury.
Wrapping up the day’s action in qualifying, four players earned a spot into the main draw: Viktoria Kuzmova, Jana Fett, Mihaela Buzarnescu and Viktoriya Tomova.