STUTTGART, Germany - Belinda Bencic got off to a bright start at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with a 6-2, 6-4 defeat of qualifier Mandy Minella in one hour and 15 minutes.
The Swiss player has encouraged fans and the media to keep expectations down despite her resurgence in 2019, saying: "The WTA is so tight now, so many players have a chance to win any tournament." But with performances such as today's, World No.20 Bencic could find it difficult to fly under the radar.
The 22-year-old, who had also beaten Minella in their only previous meeting in Osaka qualifying back in 2013 at the age of 17, was sharp from the outset, taking the ball early and cutting points off at the net for an immediate break.
Though the Luxembourger settled to an extent once she began to find the mark with a few forehands, Bencic was able to fend off a break point in each of her next two service games - before seizing the double break with aggressive returning and an electrifying full-stretch pass that caught Minella out at net. Impeccably timed backhands and volleys saw the Dubai champion ride her momentum to a break for 3-2 in the second set.
There were touches of carelessness from the baseline sprinkled throughout the match from Bencic, and these coincided with Minella's best patches of play in the second set for the World No.108 to snatch the break back immediately. Minella, one of three mothers in the Stuttgart draw alongside Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva, particularly impressed with a patient web of slices that out-manoeuvred Bencic on break point.
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But for the majority of the match, it was the former World No.7 who was finding the angles and the disguise to outwit Minella, striking 24 winners to 18 unforced errors. Bencic's trademark point construction of redirecting the ball first down one line and then the other came to the fore en route to another break, with the game closed out with an emphatic smash. From there, the Indian Wells semifinalist was able to maintain her lead for victory, holding firm in a slightly edgy final game and taking victory as a Minella backhand slice drifted long.
Next up for Bencic is No.6 seed Kiki Bertens - a player she is yet to beat in two previous meetings - with a quarterfinal berth at stake.