Considering she’s only 25 years old, it’s hard to believe Belinda Bencic is actually contesting her 10th full season on the Hologic WTA Tour.
A regular since she was 16, the Swiss Olympic champion can be considered a veteran. She is trying to strike a balance between utilizing her decade-long experience, while also embracing a youthful verve that allows her to learn new things and implement changes to her game.
With a tour-leading 14 match-wins so far, including two title runs in Adelaide and Abu Dhabi, Bencic is back in the Top 10 and playing some of the best tennis of her career.
One to watch at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week, Bencic is seeded No.8 and is seeking a second title in the northern emirate (also won Dubai in 2019) and a second trophy on UAE soil this month.
She credits her current renaissance to her coaching partnership with Dmitry Tursunov, who has pushed Bencic to take risks and adopt changes she never would have considered in the past. The two have been working together since late last season.
She acknowledges she is feeling confident on the court at the moment but is staying level-headed and knows there is plenty of room to improve.
“I read a lot about ‘The Dmitry Effect,’ so maybe it’s that,” Bencic said.
“Just staying really tough and disciplined and tough mentally. I’m really working on that right now, to stay calm and to stay positive. I think it’s really going better than last year. I had some ups and downs and also like mentally I just felt like okay either it’s going in or out, there’s nothing in between. So now I’m really giving myself a chance.”
Tursunov, who has enjoyed successful stints working with the likes of Aryna Sabalenka and Anett Kontaveit in the past, paid tribute to Bencic’s willingness to listen to new ideas and spoke about how hard his new charge has been working.
“When people say, ‘working hard,’ they think it’s like moving a lot of heavy weights and things like that and what she’s been really doing well is applying and trying new things, giving herself a chance of taking something completely new, something that she doesn’t really know if it’s going to work or not but she’s actually giving it a chance,” Tursunov said.
“And for her it’s pretty tough, she’s a pretty conservative person in that sense. So for her to do something new, something that might backfire … there are a lot of things that can stop you from venturing into a new territory. She’s been pretty brave with that; so that allows her to implement new things a little bit quicker into her game.”
Bencic feels it all comes down to trust and she has complete faith in Tursunov’s methods and expertise.
She says he has helped her stay positive and find her fighting spirit in every match and explained how he has encouraged her to play more doubles so she can test out some of the things they’ve been working on in practice.
The most crucial changes however have been biomechanics related, as Tursunov has gotten Bencic to make some tweaks to her technique.
“To be honest I don’t even know how I can be so open [about making these changes],” Bencic said. “Usually it’s very scary these kind of things but somehow he just makes me believe him.
“I just trust him. With my game it’s very special, not many people are playing with the open stance and everything, so it’s really hard to go out to the practice court and to start practicing completely different new things.”
Tursunov hinted at some of the adjustments he encouraged Bencic to make to her technique and said it allows her to show more versatility on court.
“I don’t know if it’s easily seen or not,” Tursunov said, “but you can probably compare how she moves, how she hits the ball, there’s a slight difference.
“I feel like there’s quite a bit of work ahead anyway but I told her, ‘Listen, it’s going to be a gradual process, I’m not trying to change you into a left-handed person, or I’m not trying to make you into a serve-and-volleyer. I’m just trying to add a few things. Maybe think of it like not changing the color but maybe going from one shade of a color to a different shade of it and just kind of expanding your arsenal a bit so you’re not a one-trick pony, so you can do a few different things.’
“If you’re in defense, you can play defensively, if you’re in offense, you can play offensively, so you don’t have to rely on just one thing.”
Tursunov was already familiar with Bencic’s game, having coached several players on the WTA Tour in the past. Still, he says he was "pleasantly surprised" when he realized she could actually create a lot of power with her groundstrokes.
“Because I hit with her, so if she hits in a certain way, which we’re trying to work on, her ball can be quite heavy,” he said. “She plays fast, because she takes the ball early, but playing fast and having a heavy ball is kind of different. She can create a lot of heaviness on the ball so it kind of knocks your racquet out, which I didn’t think she’d be able to do.”
Bencic now heads into Dubai looking to keep up her good form. She withdrew ahead of her quarterfinal against Iga Swiatek in Doha last week because of fatigue.
Bencic’s first-round match will come against Marta Kostyuk.
She joked that the secret to her success in the UAE are the famous Emirati dates.
“I really love to eat them,” she said. “I’ll maybe try to get another one, like last time.”
That and a coach with a keen eye should give Bencic a running start this week.