Charleston holds a special place in Belinda Bencic's heart. Ranked No.140, Bencic made her tournament debut as a 17-year-old qualifier in 2014 and marched her way into her first WTA semifinal. Eight years later, Bencic closed the loop on her Charleston love affair, winning the Credit One Charleston Open for her first clay-court title and sixth overall.
Coming off a semifinal run at the Miami Open the week before, Bencic defeated two Top 10 players in Charleston to win her first title since 2019. The victory boosted the 25-year-old up to No.13 and set her up for her least-favorite section of the season.
Bencic spoke to WTA Insider after her win to reflect on her tricky start to the season and discuss the turning point that has triggered her current run.
WTA Insider: What does this title mean to you?
Bencic: I'm always so happy to come back here. I try to play this event every year. I think I maybe have missed out once. I just really love this tournament. For me, it's an honor to win in the 50th anniversary and to be on the list of all the past champions who were here.
It meant a lot to me to even get to the final. But I always feel in the final you really have to push even harder to get over the line and get the win. So I'm just really, really happy and relieved.
WTA Insider: You've had a great run of form from Miami through Charleston, which is particularly impressive because of the surface change. It didn't take you very long to adjust from hard court to clay.
Bencic: Yeah, it really didn't. I had two days of clay preparation. Maybe this is the way, maybe it's better that I'm not thinking about what I have to do and just kind of play the same tennis I have been playing in Miami.
After Doha and Indian Wells, we worked very hard to get back on track. I was starting to feel better physically, but obviously, I had to still get the practice in. We were working very hard with my coach just to try to get the game back and everything. So I'm happy it clicked in the matches as well and also to get it in the clay-court season right away. Obviously, it's kind of unexpected, too, but we're just really happy and kind of happy that I didn't have much time to prepare.
WTA Insider: You've explained in the past how tough clay can be for your game because of your open stance technique. Maybe not having the time to think about things helped?
Bencic: Yeah, exactly. I also played doubles here. It was the goal that I spend as much time as possible in the first tournament on clay so that I'm not thinking about it. I felt like from match to match it became better and better. And even though it was raining, it was slippery, it was dry, I made it through all the conditions. I felt like with every match, I felt more and more comfortable with my movement and my game.
WTA Insider: You were struggling physically after contracting Covid in December. What has clicked for you over the past few weeks?
Bencic: It's a lot of things. In a way, it's not that complicated, but in a way it is.
It's always difficult when you feel like your game is not on. I think it's important to go back to the basics with my coach, maybe on my serve, my footwork going into the ball, taking the ball early. I felt I had been doing that in Miami a lot and now in Charleston as well. Then you make it automatic. It really works out.
We spent a lot of hours on the court in Indian Wells even though I lost the first round there. We stayed there and we were practicing every day, twice a day finally. I think you cannot cheat putting in the hours on the court.
WTA Insider: How are things going with your coach, Sebastian Sachs?
Bencic: We started working in Stuttgart last year together. He's a great coach. He's still very young, he just turned 30, but he has so much experience and he has really like a good feel of me and he knows what my game has been so far. He doesn't try to change anything, he tries to improve.
For me, this clicked a lot. You have to go through some coaches to find the right ones, but I really feel with him, it's clicking a lot. He has the experience, but also the confidence that what he's telling me it will work out. I feel like I improved my forehand a lot and my serve. And when he's around, I really feel very comfortable and secure, so I feel like he can always help me out.
It helps a lot that he has been a player himself. He knows exactly how it feels, and he knows how it feels to get frustrated and to have your emotions and how it feels to get tight in the third set at 4-4, just the experience of being a tennis player. And also it's great that he can practice with me as well. This has helped me a lot.
The most important thing is we get along well off the court. I think it's the most important thing because we are spending so much time together. When you're getting along and you know each other very good, it's always better chemistry and better vibes on the practice court as well.
WTA Insider: How do you assess your season so far?
Bencic: I always try to get a good start in Australia, but somehow I haven't found any luck there so far. I was in quarantine last year and then I had Covid this year. I went to Australia with no expectations, just to play because I had been sick and wasn't fit enough to play really good. So in a way, I feel fine because I didn't have much expectations.
I also didn't really lose to bad players. I played the second round against [Amanda] Anisimova in Australia, then in Sydney I lost to [Paula] Badosa in the quarterfinals, in St. Petersburg I lost in the quarterfinals to [Anett] Kontaveit. So it hasn't been bad matches, but I didn't have the strength or energy to get over the line.
Now I feel like it's clicking for me and the confidence has to come. You need to have all those matches, tight matches, sometimes having points down, sometimes just fighting your way, even though you're not playing great. Then you get this confidence back. I'm really relieved that I got it over the line today because I really wanted to use this chance.
So I'm happy that we're on the right track again. You feel it in your tennis. Whether you lose or you win, you always feel if you're playing your tennis or not.