SHENZHEN, China - No.7 seed Belinda Bencic is set to make her debut at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, and the Swiss player can’t stop grinning.
And why not? It’s been a career season for the 22-year-old from Switzerland, a confident return to form capped off by a dramatic, eleventh hour qualification for Shenzhen on the last week of the regular WTA season.
With the Porsche Race to Shenzhen going down to the wire as Bencic and Kiki Bertens battled it out for the last remaining spot, the Swiss player’s mission was clear: reach the final of the Kremlin Cup and she’s in. She achieved her goal, and did one better, claiming the title in Moscow to lift her second WTA trophy of the year after Dubai.
“To be honest, to make this tournament, to make the WTA Finals [is the most meaningful accomplishment of the season],” Bencic reflected in her All-Access Hour press conference. “For me personally, is that I've been consistent throughout the year. I think this is kind of the reward for being consistent.
“You are Top 8 from your points from your season, so you are in the Top 8 from this season. I think this is the most rewarding.”
Bencic’s newfound consistency is no accident, although it’s taken the Swiss a few years to find it.
The former prodigy burst onto the scene as a teenager, and by 17 she was ranked inside the Top 100. By 18, she had multiple WTA titles under her belt and a win over World No.1 Serena Williams, her flashes of brilliance offsetting first-round losses as she climbed as high as World No.7.
But then came the injuries. Back, wrist, leg, hand, foot - Bencic had taped and treated it all in the lean years between 2016 and 2018. The injuries derailed her rise and had her starting from scratch, falling outside the Top 300 in 2017.
Finally healthy and fit again, Bencic sat down at the start of this season and set one simple goal for herself.
“I always watched [Elina] Svitolina, and she’s playing every tournament quarterfinals, semifinal, final,” Bencic told WTA Insider’s Courtney Nguyen. “So I think it’s really important: that shows you’re one of the best players. It shows in your ranking, you’re in the Top 10, you’re in the Race and playing WTA Finals.
“For me it was important to realize that, and at the start of the season I said, ‘I want to win every first round.’ And I think that helped me to realize that I really have to adapt to the different conditions every week, I have to play well, not just at tournaments where I like the conditions, and then just lose the next three because something is not feeling in my game.
“So I kind of focused on that, winning every first round and then everything else was a bonus.”
Bencic achieved that goal at 18 of the 22 tournaments she contested during the regular season, a career-best count for the 22-year-old.
While still the second-youngest player to qualify for this year’s WTA Finals (after 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu), Bencic’s long tenure at the sport’s highest level sets her apart from the other players in her age group in a field defined by the dichotomy of youth versus experience.
“I'm clearly the old,” Bencic joked in her press conference. “I'm 22 years old, I'm a veteran.”
“For me, I don't know, I feel like I'm here a long time, but still I don't feel like I'm one of the older players,” she elaborated.
“I still feel like I have a lot of time. Maybe it's good I'm one of the younger ones but with more experience.”
No.7 Belinda Bencic will kick off her Shiseido WTA Finals campaign on Sunday against No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty in the first day of Red Group group action.