WOLLERAU, Switzerland - After some phenomenal results in the juniors over the last few years, Belinda Bencic began 2014 with one goal - to make a name for herself in the big leagues. Barely in the Top 200 when the year started, it seemed like a longshot, but oh what a year it was for the Swiss.
It didn't take long for the top players to take notice of her - after a hard-fought first round win over Kimiko Date-Krumm, Bencic took on Li Na in the second round of the Australian Open, dropping the first set at love in just 22 minutes but asserting herself in a big way in the 58-minute second set, coming within two points of taking the set in a tie-break but eventually falling to Li in straights, 6-0, 7-6(5).
"She played exactly like Martina Hingis," Li, who would go all the way to the title, said of Bencic.
"She was using a lot of my power to move me around and make me run a lot out there on the court."
That was just the beginning. As a No.140-ranked qualifier, Bencic would storm into the semifinals of the Premier-level clay court event in Charleston in April, breaking the Top 100 afterwards - the first player born in 1997 or later ever to break that elite. A run to the third round of Wimbledon showed she was an all-surface threat, and then the biggest breakthrough of them all, reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open, the youngest player to do that since Hingis won the title in 1997.
A few weeks later, she reached her first WTA final halfway across the world in Tianjin, China.
Having finished 2013 at No.212 in the world, Bencic finished 2014 all the way up at No.33.
And she's now been voted the WTA's Newcomer Of The Year, joining some very legendary names - Tracy Austin, Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, Jennifer Capriati, Hingis, the Williams sisters, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki, to name a few - among the list of recipients of that award.
"It's a great honor and privilege to have been voted the WTA's Newcomer Of The Year for 2014," Bencic said of the news. "It has been a challenging and rewarding year for me and I hope to be able to build on my success from 2014 in the future. I have been watching top WTA players all my life and to have been able to be on the same court as some of the world's greatest players is a dream come true.
"I hope to make as much progress in 2015 as I did this year. Thank you for voting for me!"
The WTA Awards are voted for by a combination of media and fans. Bencic came out on top in both categories - she got 56 of 58 media votes and 46% of fan votes (Zarina Diyas was next with 23%).