MELBOURNE, Australia - No.6 seed Belinda Bencic overcame a stern examination against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the opening round of the Australian Open, winning in straight sets 6-3, 7-5 to advance.
After dominating in the opening set, Bencic found herself trailing 0-3 in the second as Schmiedlova - a former Top 30 player - mounted a major comeback. But she found a way to turn things around, firing 25 winners and four aces on her way to the second round.
“It was a pretty tough match,” Bencic told press afterward. “I feel like always when I play her it's pretty tough.
“I'm really happy. Of course, first rounds is always difficult. You're trying to find your rhythm, your kind of groove. I'm just really happy I won today and have another shot in the next match.”
Bencic came into Melbourne on the back of a quarterfinal run in Adelaide, shaking off a slow start to the season after suffering an opening-round loss at the Shenzhen Open.
Her run of form continued on Margaret Court Arena, where she was looking to score some revenge against Schmiedlova; in their only previous WTA meeting, it was the Slovak who triumphed in a three-set battle en route to last year’s Hobart final.
Bencic took control of the match from the start, going up a double break to build up a daunting 4-0 lead. The Swiss player was taking the ball early and hitting through the court, forcing Schmiedlova to retrieve and defend.
Schmiedlova managed to grab a break back to make it 4-2, and held a break point a few games later that would have gotten them back on serve. But a costly double fault - one of six in the set - from Schmiedlova handed Bencic a set point. The No.6 seed claimed the opening set in a comfortable 41 minutes.
The Swiss player was tested in the second set as Schmiedlova found another level to earn a double break lead, winning a marathon third game to make it 0-3. But that’s when Bencic roared back, slamming the door on Schmiedlova’s short-lived comeback effort by breaking back in a marathon game of her own, 1-3, and reeling off the next two to level the score.
They continued to wrestle for the momentum as the set wore on, trading breaks twice and both players holding break chances. Finally it was Bencic who earned the decisive break in the final game, taking the match 6-3, 7-5 after an hour and 42 minutes.
“I think [the ability to problem-solve] is not my biggest strength, but definitely something I have in my game,” Bencic said. “ I think it's really important to have, because you never kind of play a perfect match. You always have to problem-solve.
“So your opponent is also playing great sometimes and having ups and you're having downs. So I think it's really about breaking the momentum of your opponent.”
It’s a solid start for Bencic, who achieved a career milestone last year when she reached her maiden Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open - beating defending champion Naomi Osaka along the way.
“It doesn't matter anymore that I played Grand Slam semifinal in US Open,” she said. “Now it's a new Grand Slam and I still have to win my matches to get there eventually again.
“Yes, it's about the confidence, for sure, but I think it's also kind of the expectation is a little bit bigger and I think you can't compare yourself with US Open right now. You have to focus on a brand new Grand Slam, Australian Open.”
She awaits the winner between French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova in her next match.