CHARLESTON, SC, USA - No.16 seed Petra Martic took down Belinda Bencic in straight sets at the Volvo Car Open, booking her spot into the first Premier-level semifinal of her career.
The 28-year-old Croatian player needed just one break in each set against an otherwise solid Bencic, edging through to win 6-3, 6-4, in just over an hour. By reaching the semifinals, Martic is also projected to return to the WTA’s Top 40 again, a few spots shy of her career-high World No.31 ranking.
“It was my best match so far,” Martic grinned in her post-match press conference. “I think these three wins prior to this match gave me quite some confidence. Even yesterday that I managed to pull this match against [Jessica] Pegula was really a tough one, and I played pretty good level already yesterday. So I just brought it with me on court today, and I’m really happy about it.”
Martic’s win means that Bencic, the winner of this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, is out of the tournament, continuing the streak of unique champions lifting trophies in 2019. For the first time in WTA history, the first 14 tournaments of the season have each been won by different women, and Bencic’s defeat ensures that the trend will continue through Charleston and Monterrey and into the European clay season.
“I think the level is high, and everybody can play great tennis,” Martic said. “So it all depends on the week who is going to pull out five matches in a row on such a high level. And looks like the variety is really big.”
Martic played stellar tennis for the one-hour and 23-minute contest, and she took advantage of a sluggish start from Bencic to earn an early break, 2-0. That would prove to be decisive, as Bencic raised her level, dropping just two points on her serve for the rest of the set - including back-to-back love holds. But the Swiss player couldn’t find any inroads into the Croat's game, letting three break chances slip by at 5-3 as Bencic finally dropped her first set of the tournament.
Bencic continued dominating her service games at the start of the second set, winning her first two games to love as she searched for a way to spark a comeback. But a spate of unforced errors put her in trouble again, and Martic quickly capitalized to earn the break at 3-2. As in the first set, the lone break proved to be decisive as Martic left no opening for a Bencic comeback and powered into the semifinals.
“I think clay suits my game really well, and I know how to move on it because I grew up on it, so I feel really comfortable out there,” Martic said. “But the fact that I played well last year on hard courts as well and I made fourth round on grass courts in Wimbledon, which was quite surprising for me, to be honest, but it gave me confidence and gave me the belief that I can actually play well on all surfaces.
"So now in my eyes, okay, grass is still not my favorite, but hard courts and clay are pretty much the same.”
Up next for Martic, the Croatian player will take on another seeded opponent as she seeks to continue her career-best week in Charleston. She awaits the winner between former champion Caroline Wozniacki, the No.5 seed, and No.15 Maria Sakkari of Greece.
“They’re both really tough players,” Martic assessed. “They grind a lot of long rallies. So it’s going to be physical tomorrow. I have to be ready to be there for quite a long time, I think, but I’m looking forward to it.”