MALLORCA, Spain - No.3 seed Belinda Bencic was made to work in her first grass court match of the season, taking down Rebecca Peterson in two close sets at the Mallorca Open.
“It felt very nice to be back on grass after a hard-fought victory today,” Bencic said after the match. “It was a very difficult match, only the little details decided it. On grass, it’s always important to stay mentally strong, and I’m glad I did that today.”
Playing the Mallorca event for the first time, Bencic arrives at one of her favorite parts of the season: in the past she’s lifted trophies in Eastbourne, reached the final of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and has made two appearances in the fourth round of Wimbledon - the latter as recently as last year.
She’s also coming in on a hot streak: in addition to lifting the title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, she’s also made the semifinals at two Premier Mandatories - Indian Wells and Madrid - and claimed Top 10 victories over Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, Simona Halep, and Aryna Sabalenka.
She carried all of that confidence into her first round match against Peterson on Pista Central. After edging through a tough opening set, the Dubai champion settled into the match and claimed the victory 7-5, 6-4 after nearly two hours on court.
“I always adjust pretty good from clay to grass, because grass is very natural for me and clay isn’t,” Bencic explained. “So for me the transition has been good. I find it harder to adjust after, from grass to hardcourts.”
Bencic needed almost an hour to earn the first set alone against Peterson, weathering a rollercoaster stretch of seven breaks of serve - from 16 opportunities combined - and plenty of momentum shifts. Bencic lead by a break twice at the outset, starting out the match with a 1-0 lead before Peterson broke straight back, and later at 3-2, but once again Peterson rallied to make it 3-3.
A game later, a frustrated Bencic saw three break opportunities slip by as Peterson held for her first lead of the match at 4-3, and quickly found herself in trouble as the Swede roared ahead to a 5-3 lead. But with her back against the wall, Bencic halted Peterson’s momentum and found a break back of her own. She reeled off the next three games in a row to escape with the opening set.
The second set unfolded in a familiar manner for Bencic: she fought her way to early advantages, but struggled to put away the determined Peterson. With her game on grass now looking solid, Bencic settled into the contest and had Peterson under pressure from the start.
She created three break points in Peterson’s first service game, 0-1, and two more at 3-2, but both times Peterson denied her the lead. But as the set continued to progress to its final stages, Bencic looked more fired up - finally, at 4-4 Bencic converted her fourth break chance of the game to take a 5-4 lead, and served up the victory to book her spot in the second round.
“[My mental strength] was key today for sure, because it’s very close points on grass,” Bencic explained. “The scores are never easy because everyone is trying to hold serve, it’s just very close always against anyone. So I think mentality is important.”
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Bencic fired 23 winners during the straight sets battle - the same amount as Peterson hit, but the unforced error count made the difference, with the Swede striking 30 and Bencic keeping contained to 19. Bencic’s aggression earned her 18 break chances - she converted five - against her opponents three breaks from seven.
Up next, Bencic will take on the winner between Zhang Shuai and qualifier Shelby Rogers in the second round.