ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Belinda Bencic and Johanna Konta headline the top half of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy draw, both having taken wildcards into the tournament in the hopes of energizing their 2020 seasons.
"I’m looking to play as many matches as possible and I’ve heard this is a great event," Konta said during her All-Access Hour interview on Tuesday. "I only played two in Australia, and I finished last season quite early."
The British No.1 shined at the big stages in 2019, reaching the semifinals of Roland Garros and back-to-back quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the US Open - all while a knee injury hampered her training.
"With the way the injury was, it wasn’t very black and white; it was quite grey. A tendon issue isn't that easy to decide on, one way or another. There’s never a right answer, so it was about making the best of the information I had at the time."
Following the US Open defeat to Elina Svitolina, Konta thrice geared up for the fall swing, only to find the pain too great to take the court.
"It wasn’t like I finished the US Open and I decided to be done with the year, do my rehab and rest then, and then have a long pre-season. I was trying to get back to play, so I was preparing to play in Beijing, Moscow, and Zhuhai and that didn’t happen. It was one of those unfortunate situations, but once we made the decision that I was done, I took my time off, and started my rehab in full. I did my pre-season and the rehab itself has been going quite well. I’m definitely improving with every day."
Bencic, too, dealt with a foot injury throughout the summer - making her first major semifinal in New York in spite of it - and ultimately ended her season having to retire from her WTA Finals Shenzhen debut in the semifinals.
"It was possible to play through, but after the season I was very tired, as well, so I not only needed to rest my whole body, but also get that injury under control," she explained before her opening round match against either former World No.2 Svetlana Kuznetsova or American Jennifer Brady. "I don’t feel any pain anymore and I’m healthy. I didn’t practice as much as I normally would during the off-season, but I put the right priority on giving my body a rest and also mentally reset so I can be motivated to play again."
The reigning Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships winner, who took part in the annual Player Party held at the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace Hotel on Monday evening, had an encouraging start to 2020 with a quarterfinal finish at the Adelaide International, but a third round Australian Open defeat to Anett Kontaveit sent the Swiss youngster in search of more matches ahead of the Middle East and Sunshine swings.
"I’m not someone who usually starts the season very fast and strong, but I still had some good, solid matches. I’d like to get a few more in and try to get into the rhythm of playing the matches. I’m pretty happy with my level. A win or loss is a very fine line, so here and there wasn’t very good, but I know what I have to improve."
Konta was dealt a pair of tricky opponents to start the season, falling to eventual Australian Open quarterfinalist Ons Jabeur in Melbourne, her most recent singles match. That doesn't mean the 28-year-old will be rusty against Oceane Dodin on Wednesday; the Brit paired Caroline Garcia for a match tie-break doubles win over Vivian Heisen and Valeriya Strakhova to start her week with a win.
"We played a good match against players who were playing really well, especially for those two sets. I’m really happy we could get that win under our belt; it was my first doubles match in a long time – much less a win – so it was good fun."
Bencic is similarly fresh off a winning weekend of her own; she and countrywoman Jil Teichmann led Switzerland to a Fed Cup qualifying win over Canada in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. A finalist at the inaugural St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy in 2016, the World No.5 credits the unique competition with triggering the career renaissance that began this time last year.
"From Fed Cup on, I really felt great. That’s what gave me a boost. We beat Italy there, and from then, I felt great coming into Dubai. I saved so many match points that week and got into a confidence mode. It flowed from there."
Konta is more abstract in her expectations, hoping a week in St. Petersburg will ease her into the mindset that allows her best tennis to come forward.
"I took good things from Australia, and am trying to build from that. More than anything, it’s about giving myself the space and time to let things happen. Wins and good matches come with time, and I think having a good perspective and space will allow me to enjoy that process along its way."
Recovering from a head cold incurred last week, the No.4 seed has described her off-court time as "self-quarantined" while Bencic plans a trip to the Hermitage on one of her days off and keeps her fingers crossed for a winter wonderland.
"Honestly, I was hoping for a lot of snow here! Maybe it’ll come later in the week."