MELBOURNE, Australia - The unseeded Belinda Bencic showed no sign of nerves as she fought past 2017 finalist Venus Williams in straight sets at the Australian Open.
In the most anticipated matchup of the first round, it was comeback kid Bencic who pulled off the biggest stunner of the day with the 6-3, 7-5 victory over the No.5 seed.
Bencic came into Melbourne ranked No.78, but that ranking belies the talent that she’s shown in her latest comeback from injury. After a wrist injury and subsequent surgery caused the former World No.7 to miss almost half of the 2017 season and slip out of the Top 300, Bencic came back to the tour on a tear. She ended the year winning winning 28 of 31 matches and winning four titles, two on the ITF Circuit and two WTA 125K Series events at Hua Hin, Thailand and Taipei.
This season, Bencic started the year opting to play Hopman Cup for Switzerland alongside Roger Federer, leading her country to the title, and she carried all of that momentum into the clash against Venus. Despite having never taken a set off Venus in their previous four encounters, Bencic played fearless tennis from start to finish to pull off the upset.
“I was thinking a lot about the last matches,” Bencic said of her four straight losses against Venus. “For the first matches, I think I had a little bit too much respect, played a little bit careful
“This time I really tried to come out and, you know, hit it big. Also tactically be smart on the court. It's really tough to play her. You really have to be on the limit of your game. You have to come out with everything you have. I tried to do that today.”
The Swiss struck first in a tight opening set that saw the first six games go comfortably to the server as both players took the time to feel each other out. She struck first to get ahead at 4-3 after pouncing on a brief letdown by Venus that gave her looks at a few second serves.
Rain delayed play for about half an hour as the roof closed over Rod Laver Arena, and upon resumption Venus was unable to convert on four break opportunities. Bencic stayed fearless, and broke once more to wrap up the set.
Four straight breaks of serve started the second set, with Venus opening up the lead first and Bencic having to come back each time to keep them level. The eight-time Grand Slam champion showed her mettle at 4-3 as she saved two break points - and survived hitting two double faults in the same game - which would have put the Swiss just a game away from victory. The pair stayed deadlocked, with Venus just one point away from forcing the tiebreak, until Bencic broke once more to seal the biggest win of her career after an hour and 55 minutes.
“I think she played well,” Venus said afterwards. “I don't think I played a bad match. She just played above and beyond. I just have to give her credit for that.
“I didn't play so bad, I wasn't missing every shot. It just didn't work out.”
She advances to play either Johanna Larsson or Luksika Kumkhum in the second round.