ADELAIDE, Australia - No.4 seed Belinda Bencic eked out a tight contest over Julia Goerges to move into the Adelaide International quarterfinals 7-6(6), 7-6(4) in one hour and 50 minutes, coming from a break down and saving a set point in the first set.
The result, which Bencic eventually sealed despite failing to serve the match out twice, also means that the US Open and WTA Finals semifinalist edges ahead 3-2 in the pair's head-to-head with her first straight-sets triumph in the series - and, following her 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 win in the second round of Toronto last year, this marks the first time that the Swiss No.1 has defeated Goerges twice in a row.
"It's always really tight because she's a player who serves very big," Bencic commented afterwards. "It puts a lot of pressure on you, your service games but also your return games. It's about the breaks, the important points."
In the opening stages, this looked rather unlikely as Bencic was overpowered outright at times: more error-prone than usual, but frequently left standing as Goerges' serve and groundstoke missiles rocketed past her. Three forehand errors in a loose fifth game opened the door for the German, who slammed it shut for the break with an off forehand winner.
Continuing to pressure every Bencic service game, Goerges was supreme on her own, notching up seven aces in the first set. As she moved into a 5-3 lead, the 31-year-old had dropped only two points on serve.
Stepping up to serve for the set, though, Goerges' first serve and groundstroke accuracy deserted her. Unable to deal with a Bencic backhand pass, the World No.38 tapped a volley into the net to finish an unfortunate service game.
Bencic hadn't quite escaped with the set: the 22-year-old trailed for most of a tight tiebreak as Goerges' form oscillated from point to point, and she had to save set point at 5-6 with a lunging forehand volley. But two points later, holding set point of her own, some spectacular anticipation and defence paid off for the Dubai and Moscow champion as Goerges sent a final smash wide.
"To be honest, I don't think I deserved to win the first set," said a relieved Bencic afterwards. "Maybe I was a little bit lucky. But I just tried to hang in there and bring every ball back."
A rattled Goerges continued to offer up errors as the second set got under way as Bencic pressed home her advantage to break and move into a 2-0 lead, coming up with a brilliant defensive dropshot on the way. The fourth game found Goerges finding the mark with her forehand sufficiently to break back - aided by a careless Bencic double fault - but the World No.7 was alert enough not to let this turn into a momentum shift. Instead, Bencic began to rain down aces of her own, eventually tallying six, and regained her advantage when Goerges began to cascade errors once more in the seventh game.
But now it was Bencic who would struggle to close out a 5-3 lead. Goerges, having lost six straight points on her formerly impregnable serve, stemmed her tide of mistakes to hold from 0-30 - and then took advantage as Bencic twice wobbled when serving for the match, breaking with a clean forehand return winner both times to force another tiebreak.
Therein, though, Bencic's superior consistency - and Goerges' shaky smash - would again be the deciding factor. Though Goerges would finish with double her opponent's aces, 12 to Bencic's six, it was the Mallorca runner-up who garnered more free points from her delivery in the closing stages of the match.
Goerges continued to battle, cutting a 5-1 lead to 5-4, but Bencic would step up to seal the deal this time, coming up with a brilliant backhand winner - her 16th of the day - to reach match point and taking it as a Goerges forehand sailed long. Next up for Bencic will be the in-form Danielle Collins, who posted another dominant win over a Top 20 player in upsetting American compatriot and No.7 seed Sofia Kenin 6-3 6-1 in one hour and 10 minutes.
It's a challenge that Bencic feels she's ready for. "I expect something similar like today against Julia," she assessed the matchup. "Everyone's on fire sometimes - but I hope to stop it tomorrow!"