DUBAI, UAE - Belinda Bencic is officially back to her winning ways after claiming the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships’ trophy in a dramatic final, toppling No.2 seed Petra Kvitova in three sets to win the title.
The unseeded Bencic, ranked No.45 in the world, came into the match looking to lift her first WTA trophy since the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2015. Having broken into the Top 10 rankings as a teenager, Bencic found her career derailed by injuries - including a wrist surgery.
Now, the Swiss player is back in the ascendancy after taking down Australian Open finalist Kvitova, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 in an hour and 45 minutes to claim her third career title.
“It's unbelievable. It's incredible. I mean, I still cannot believe it,” Bencic told press later. “Especially I'm realizing after two rounds, we were already saying, ‘Wow, this is a great tournament.’ Now it's only bonus.
“Then I won against Sabalenka after being out already. We said the same thing again. Really, the expectations after two rounds were not there anymore. So many times I was close from defeat. It's unbelievable that I ended up winning this.”
Along the way, she claimed four WTA Top 10 wins - saving six match points against No.9 Aryna Sabalenka, coming back from a set down against No.2 Simona Halep and ending two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina’s reign at the Emirati event, before taking on No.4 Kvitova in the final.
“Of course they are very high-quality players, all of them,” Bencic said. “I'm so happy about the consistency that I could back up my wins. After playing a tough match, I could mentally win another one. It's very difficult.”
Kvitova, who was competing in her third final in five tournaments so far this year with a victory at Sydney, came into the matchup with a confidence-boosting 3-0 lead in the pair’s head to head. Their most recent clash came at the 2019 Australian Open, where Kvitova eased through in straight sets on her way to the final.
“I think I played better in Melbourne,” Kvitova acknowledged. “That's I think what was the difference. I think definitely I served much, much better in Melbourne than here. Whole tournament I was pretty fighting with my serve. It wasn't really great. I played a lot from the second serve.”
Bencic put that history aside as they took to Center Court, breaking Kvitova early and reeling off six of the seven first points to consolidate to 2-0. She had points to make it 3-0, but Kvitova denied her in a marathon game to keep them close.
The Swiss player was relentless, and she extended her lead to 4-1 looking to close in on the set. Kvitova broke straight back, but she couldn’t level the score as Bencic kept her nose in front. A final break went Bencic’s way and she took the set 6-3.
— WTA (@WTA) February 23, 2019
Kvitova’s lefty serve was finally clicking in the second set, and the Czech surged ahead to take control of the set. With Kvitova’s powerful forehands dictating play, Bencic couldn’t seem to find any inroads in her opponent’s service games.
Instead, Bencic was broken three times during the set - twice in a row to start as Kvitova built up a daunting 4-0 lead, and then as Kvitova reeled off the last two games in a row to close out the one-sided affair 6-1.
Bencic didn’t give herself time to dwell on the disappointment. She came out swinging and playing aggressive, and was rewarded with another early break to lead 2-1. She covered the court as Kvitova used all of her firepower to try and spark a turnaround, but instead Bencic broke once more to extend her lead to 5-2.
Kvitova made one final push to stay in the match, bringing up three break points just as Bencic served for the match, but the 21-year-old Swiss just wouldn’t be denied and she sealed the victory after an hour and 45 minutes.
— WTA (@WTA) February 23, 2019
Bencic survived 33 winners from Kvitova’s racquet across the three sets, striking nine winners of her own and 16 unforced errors. Kvitova’s 29 unforced errors kept her in check, but the real key was in the pair’s service numbers: Bencic was serving at 65% of first serves - outpacing Kvitova’s 56% - and winning 54% of her second serves. Kvitova won just 44% of her second serves, and also struck seven double faults.
“I have huge respect from Petra because she's amazing player,” Bencic enthused. “She's such a champion. I really didn't believe all the match that I can beat her. Really, that was my mentality. I was just trying to get from point to point, getting closer, getting closer. I was not thinking too far ahead.
“After when I won, it was incredible. Of course, even to win a set already, it would have been amazing. I just tried to get closer this time than I was in Australia. I hoped that it would be enough.”
The victory makes Bencic just the second-ever Swiss woman to win a trophy at Dubai, following in the footsteps of 2001 champion Martina Hingis.
Even sweeter for the resurgent Bencic: she’ll rise to back inside the WTA’s Top 30 with the title, landing at No.23 when the new rankings are released on Monday.