MALLORCA, Spain -- No.6 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States executed a stunning comeback in the Mallorca Open final on Sunday, saving three championship points at 5-4 in the second set en route to a marathon 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-4 defeat of No.3 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and locking up her second WTA singles title of the year as a result.
After the match, Kenin credited her fighting spirit as "what really got me through. With [Bencic], you have to fight every point, and I’m just really happy with this title. It just means a lot to me."
Kenin kept her breakthrough year rolling with her two-hour and 42-minute win over Bencic, in their first meeting. The 20-year-old, who at World No.30 is enjoying her first-ever month as a Top 30 player, claimed her first WTA singles title at Hobart in January, and just had her best-ever Grand Slam result at Roland Garros, where she upset Serena Williams to reach the fourth round.
"Hard work, for sure, is paying off bigtime," said Kenin, who improved to 6-6 against the Top 20 this year, and has an overall win-loss record of 25-12 in 2019.
The American had 48 winners to 38 unforced errors during the clash, and converted four of her nine break points, winning over half of the points when facing a Bencic second serve. Bencic had 28 winners to 26 unforced errors; half of those unforced errors were her 13 double faults.
"I’m playing really well, fighting for every point and taking as much advantage as I can," Kenin stated. "This really is great, and I’m just so happy with how I’m playing."
Bencic took the early lead in the tilt, maneuvering to 3-0. Kenin faced three break points in the next game, close to falling behind a double-break, but she began to find her range off the backhand, eventually getting on the board at 3-1 with an ace. The American was spurred on by that comeback, firing a forehand into the corner to break Bencic and get back on serve at 3-2.
An exchange of breaks at 3-3 in the opener did nothing to separate the combatants, and they eventually moved into the crucial tiebreak. Errors by Kenin gave Bencic an early 3-0 advantage, but the American pulled back to 3-2 following a forehand winner.
But Bencic took control of the breaker from there, and garnered four set points after a forehand winner which just brushed the netcord brought her to 6-2. Bencic only need the first chance, as she executed a serve-and-backhand winner one-two punch to clinch the closely-contested opening frame.
The players continued to be evenly matched in the second set, and they held through to 4-4 without a break point to be found up to that juncture. But it was Kenin who faltered first in that set, as three straight errors gave Bencic triple set point in that game. The Swiss player converted the first with bruising backhands, and she had a chance to serve for the match.
Bencic had three championship points at 5-4, but all three went begging, the third squandered with a double fault. Kenin then fired a forehand passing winner to reach break point, and after another backhand winner by the American, it was 5-5 and the match was still ongoing.
The duo moved into another tiebreak, and this time it was Kenin who dominated the start, firing a backhand winner down the line to reach 5-2. Kenin used an error-forcing forehand to grab four set points at 6-2, and though Bencic stayed steely to fend off the first three, the Swiss shot a return long on the fourth, and Kenin had leveled the match at one set all.
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The duo advanced to the deciding set, where they each held with ease all the way to 4-4. But, suddenly, Kenin had an immediate opportunity in that game, after Bencic hit a double fault to give the American triple break point. A strong serve by Bencic erased one, but on the second, Kenin hit a beautiful backhand winner crosscourt to earn the first service break of the final set.
After two hour-plus tiebreak sets to start the match, Kenin was determined to close out her win on her first chance to serve for it, and she used aggressive play and potent footspeed to claim two championship points for herself at 40-15. Bencic slammed a return into the net on the first, and Kenin had come back from the brink of defeat to claim her second singles title.
There is no rest for the weary, as Kenin is now right off to Eastbourne, where she will face former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the opening round. "I have to prepare mentally and physically for that [tournament], but I’m going to do my best," Kenin concluded.