MELBOURNE, Australia - Belinda Bencic had not yet begun playing on the WTA tour when Kateryna Bondarenko first retired in 2012, but the Ukrainian made her return over 18 months ago and gave the No.12 seed all she could handle in a grueling three-set thriller, but the Swiss star ultimately came through, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
"It was a tough piece of work for me," Bencic said of the nearly two hour encounter, one that saw her hit 26 winners to Bondarenko's 23.
Losing serve to drop the opening set, Bencic raced out in front to take the second and lead by a break in the third before Bondarenko clawed back even. Breaking serve for a fifth time at 4-4 in the final set, Bencic survived one last fight from Bondarenko to serve it out, saving a break point before clinching her spot in the fourth round.
A semifinalist at the Apia International Sydney, the Swiss youngster has won her last 15 three-set matches, a stat that dates back to the 2015 French Open - and includes, of course, her Rogers Cup victory over World No.1 Serena Williams, whom she could meet in the quarterfinals.
Coming from a country that has raised multiple champions, Bencic joked about one theory that could be keeping so many Swiss players like Martina Hingis and Timea Bacsinszky (and ATP playes like Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka) at the top.
"For me, it's the chocolate! I don't know about the others, but I'm kidding. I'm just really glad I'm with all these great players; it makes me really proud and we could do some great things.
"I'm really happy representing the Swiss flag."
Into the second week of the Australian Open for the first time in her young career, Bencic will next play 2008 champion Maria Sharapova, who earned her 600th career win over unseeded American Lauren Davis, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-0.