MADRID, Spain - Dubai champion Belinda Bencic edged past Svetlana Kuznetsova in a three-set thriller to reach the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open for the first time.
The Swiss player started the week by claiming her career first main draw win in Madrid, taking down Alison Van Uytvanck in straight sets. Playing here for the first time since 2015, Bencic has already doubled her win tally after battling past Kuznetsova, 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-3.
“The match was really difficult,” Bencic admitted afterward. “I think we both played very good, it was definitely a high quality match.
“Sveta was playing amazing, and she just came by after injury so it’s nice to see. Well, not when I was on the court, I don’t want to see her playing well against me!” she added, laughing.
“Otherwise I’m so happy. I’m really proud that I beat her on clay, which I don’t think is going to happen again.”
A finalist here in 2015, Kuznetsova, who entered with a wildcard, has been making a solid return to WTA action after a snakebitten 2018 season, which saw her recover from wrist surgery only to be waylaid by a knee injury. She made her comeback last month in Lugano, where she reached the quarterfinals.
She struggled at first against a dialed-in Bencic, who was keeping the points short and taking the ball early. Clay is far from the Swiss’ favorite surface, but she was able to apply her fast game and fire winners off both wings, earning an early break to lead 2-1. Kuznetsova fought back to level the score at 4-4, putting Bencic under pressure and sending them to a tiebreaker.
But Kuznetsova’s unforced errors, which had her in trouble at times earlier in the set, reared their head in the tiebreak, and Bencic enjoyed the occasional free points to reel off the last four points in a row and edge through the opening set.
In the second set, Kuznetsova’s long experience on clay shined through as the former French Open winner charged to an early break to lead 2-0. Kuznetsova was swinging freely, and broke twice more - extending her lead to 4-1 after a marathon, five-minute game and then making it 5-2 after Bencic earned one of the breaks back. The Russian served out the set after another lengthy game, fighting off more break chances to hold for 6-2.
With the clock nearing midnight, Bencic broke early to start the second set with a 2-0 lead, firing winners at will. But things got complicated once again as the players traded breaks twice, staying on serve with the Swiss player leading 3-2.
Finally, Bencic broke through to claim the decisive lead with a break to love at 4-2, backing it up with a love hold to extend her lead to 5-2. The wind seemed to leave the Russian player’s sails just then, and Bencic served another love game to close out the match after two hours and nine minutes - just 10 minutes shy of midnight.
“In the third set, I finally started serving better and I started feeling more confident,” Bencic said. “I said to myself, I have to go for my shots. I have to be brave, and if I lose like that, then okay. But I have to take it in my own hands.”
Today’s win is the 23rd victory of 2019 for the rising Bencic, and it puts her in joint-second place for most WTA victories, behind Petra Kvitova’s 25 wins.
Into the third round, Bencic awaits the winner between Kateryna Kozlova and No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova, who are set to take the court tomorrow.