Paula Badosa scored the first Top 20 win of her career in dramatic fashion in the second round of the Volvo Car Open, ousting No.5 seed Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-1 despite missing two match points in the second set.
The pair are peers in age, both born in 1997, but had never previously played each other - even at junior level. Though Badosa has yet to match former World No.5 Bencic's prodigious accomplishments, the Spaniard's results have been on the upswing in recent months. A Grand Slam fourth-round debut at Roland Garros last autumn was followed this year by a run to the Lyon semifinals in February.
Bencic got off to a rather flat start. The Swiss managed to hold for the first time in her second service game despite serving four double faults in it, but could not overcome 13 unforced errors in the opening set. Nor was she able to gain any momentum on return. Badosa landed 73% of her first serves and did not need to face a break point.
The contest only heated up in a seesaw second set. Winners began to flow from Bencic's racquet, and she took advantage of a spate of Badosa double faults to jump out to 3-0. But the 2015 Roland Garros junior champion responded superbly, playing her most aggressive tennis off the ground to bounce back with five consecutive games of her own.
This took Badosa to the brink of victory, but the rollercoaster ride wasn't over yet. Bencic saved two match points serving down 3-5. Then, serving for the match, Badosa managed to lose an opening point she was in full control of with an unfortunate net touch - a moment that sparked Bencic back into life as Badosa wobbled.
"You saw I couldn't close the match," Badosa said afterwards. "I was so, so nervous because I knew it was a big win."
Badosa would fail to serve the match out again at 6-5. On both occasions, Bencic sealed the break back with backhand winners, and she subsequently dominated the tiebreak to force a decider.
But despite coming out at the wrong end of the second set's plot twists, Badosa responded by playing with renewed focus. Down a break point in the first game of the final set, Badosa found a flurry of big forehands and an ace to hold, and rolled from there.
As Bencic's intensity dipped back down to her first-set level, Badosa once again raced through five games in a row. Her serve was clicking again - Badosa would ultimately balance 11 double faults with 10 aces - and her winner tally ticked up to 38.
Once again, getting over the finishing line was an adventure, particularly given Bencic's penchant for peaking when facing match point. The gulf was too great to let slip, though, and a relieved Badosa sealed the win after two hours and 19 minutes on her fifth match point.
"The first thing [in the third set], I accepted the nerves," Badosa said. "I tried to play again my tennis, tried to be aggressive, tried to hit with spin, and that's what I tried the entire third set."
Badosa will next face another former star junior, Caty McNally. The 19-year-old American sealed the fourth Top 50 win of her career 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-4 over Miami Open quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova in two hours and 26 minutes.
Caty McNally's Top 50 wins
2019 Washington QF, d. Hsieh Su-Wei 6-4, 6-3
2020 US Open R1, d. Ekaterina Alexandrova 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(2)
2021 Charleston R1, d. Elena Rybakina 6-4 ret.
2021 Charleston R2, d. Anastasija Sevastova 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-4
It was another rollercoaster upset, though in contrast to the high-octane baseline battles between Badosa and Bencic, McNally and Sevastova favoured flair and finesse.
Dropshots, net forays and the full array of spins were the order of the day from both, resulting in a series of entertaining highlights. But McNally played with more purpose in the biggest moments while Sevastova wavered. The teenager came from 2-5 down in the first set, saving a set point as the Latvian double faulted. Taking her returns from well inside the baseline as the match went on, McNally also recovered from 2-4 down in the decider before taking her fourth match point with a backhand volley.
Meanwhile, No.9 seed Marketa Vondrousova was forced to withdraw ahead of her second-round clash with qualifier Kurumi Nara due to illness. Former World No.32 Nara took advantage, dispatching lucky loser Whitney Osuigwe 6-1, 6-4 to seal consecutive WTA main draw victories for the first time since her run to the 2017 Tashkent quarterfinals.