MADRID, Spain - Former World No.7 Belinda Bencic continued her 2019 renaissance with an emphatic victory over good friend Kateryna Kozlova, ending the Ukrainian qualifier's impressive week at the Mutua Madrid Open, 6-0, 6-2, to reach her first quarterfinal on European red clay.
"I felt really good today," she explained after the match. "I felt like I was in control for most of the match, and of most of the rallies, which, that was my goal, not to let her dominate me. I'm definitely really happy with how I'm playing and feeling the ball. I cut down my errors, as well!"
Bencic is making her first appearance at the Caja Magica since 2015 as injuries and inconsistencies stunted her initial career rise, but is making up for lost time this week, winning a three-set thriller against 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and dropping just two games to book a BNP Paribas Open rematch with World No.1 Naomi Osaka after 63 minutes on Stadium 3.
"I still think it won't be my favorite surface. It's good to keep expectations low, and I still haven't quite figured out how to run for drop shots!" she joked, adding, "I'm not thinking too much about the surface when I'm out there; I'm just playing my normal game without trying to adjust too much. The conditions here can also be better for me than another clay court tournament."
Kozlova scored a second career Top 5 win on Tuesday when she outlasted former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova, but Bencic, who won her second Premier 5 title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February, proved a very different opponent.
Breaking to start the match, Bencic fought off two break points of her own to score a second and third break advantage, serving out the set on her second opportunity and hitting six winners to Kozlova's 12 unforced errors.
The second set began on even footing as the qualifier got on the board and exchanged service holds before the unseeded Swiss regained the initiative in the fifth game, breaking on her third chance and ultimately winning the final 10 points of the match.
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In all, Bencic struck 14 winners to just 11 unforced errors and converted five of eight break point opportunities while saving all three on her own serve. As for Kozlova, 25 total unforced errors proved her undoing along with a 26% win percentage behind her second serve.
What comes next for the Swiss Miss is an intriguing clash with top seed and reigning US and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka.
"I'm going with a new, fresh feeling into this match. I'm in the quarterfinals, and so I have every reason to feel relaxed. She's the No.1, so I'll enjoy that!"
The two last played at the BNP Paribas Open, where Osaka was the defending champion; Bencic won in straight sets, continuing her winning streak from Dubai into the semifinals.
"I definitely think the bounce is higher in Indian Wells. It's going to be different here, there's skidding, and takes the spin more. Every week is different; we could have played in Miami and it might have been a whole different story. I'm not thinking about the matches from before; I know the respect is there, and she'll try to be at her best tomorrow. Hopefully, I can do the same like in Indian Wells."