Some players don’t want anything to do with the draw. Others can’t resist poring over that week’s peculiar grouping, breaking down potential opponents all the way to the finals.
Belinda Bencic falls somewhere in between.
“I look at my draw, maybe first two rounds, but not further because it’s not relevant at that moment,” she said Saturday in a conversation with wtatennis.com. “Why would I in that moment put my thoughts on something that’s not even here yet?”
Human nature being what it is, easy to say but hard to do.
“Yes,” she said, laughing. “Yes.”
As the No.5 seed at the Guadalajara Open AKRON, a WTA 1000 tournament that began on Sunday, Bencic received an opening-round bye. Her first match will be against Taylor Townsend.
Here’s the situation for the 26-year-old from Switzerland:
While she’s No.15 overall in the Hologic WTA Tour rankings, she’s sitting at No.11 in the Race to the WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico with 2,571 points. The Race Leaderboard tabulates points only earned in the current season.
Ons Jabeur (3,213) currently holds down the No.8 and final qualifying spot for singles, trailed by Madison Keys (2,738) and Petra Kvitova (2,590).
Going deep would bring Bencic, who trails Jabeur's eight spot by less than 700 points, into the middle of the qualifying discussion. Consider that 900 points will go to the winner, with 585 to the finalists and 350 for a spot in the semifinals.
Can she do it? Can she qualify for Cancun?
“Well,” she said, “if I didn’t think I could qualify, I wouldn’t be playing still. You try to think positive thoughts. It’s not my primary thought when I go on the court. I still have to go for it and display my game, and if it works out, great. For sure, I’ll be fighting for the last opportunity.”
Main draw in Guadalajara (WTA 1000), where Ons Jabeur and Maria Sakkari are the top seeds. pic.twitter.com/Jnnll8G8KN— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 16, 2023
With a number of the top players sitting out Guadalajara after a busy summer, Bencic, Jabeur, Keys and Jelena Ostapenko (2,405) stand to gain the most with respect to the year-end tournament. Looking from the outside, that seems like a welcome opportunity.
Bencic’s not so sure.
“Because you have to beat the opponents that are here,” she said. “It’s not easier or harder, depending on who you play. And sometimes you have to play a little bit against yourself.
“For me, I’m the kind of player who plays even better against the top opponents. So for me, sometimes it’s even harder when, you’re like, ‘OK, this opponent you have to beat because she’s ranked lower.’ It’s absolutely not true, it’s not the mindset you want to have. You have to beat the person on the other side of the net.”
This is the eighth of nine WTA 1000 events this year, with the China Open starting Sept. 28. The WTA Finals wrap up the season in Cancun from Oct. 29-Nov. 5.
The season’s first seven 1000s were a tribute to the WTA Tour’s depth and diversity. Elena Rybakina was the only two-time winner, in Indian Wells and Rome, and a three-time finalist. Newly minted No.1 Aryna Sabalenka won in Madrid and lost to Rybakina in the Indian Wells final.
No.2 Iga Swiatek fell to Barbora Krejcikova in the Dubai final and to Sabalenka in Madrid. The other winners: Kvitova (Miami), Jessica Pegula (Montreal) and Coco Gauff (Cincinnati).
The field in Guadalajara guarantees there will be another first-time 2023 WTA 1000 champion.
Why not Bencic?
She began the season with a flurry of activity, winning the title in Adelaide 2, defeating Top 10 players Caroline Garcia and Daria Kasatkina along the way. A month later in Abu Dhabi, Bencic was a winner over Beatriz Haddad Maia in the final. There was also a finals appearance in Charleston, where she lost a tight match to Jabeur.
Then came a hip injury that ruled her out of most of the European clay season. But the former junior No.1 found traction again by the summer. She had match point on Swiatek at Wimbledon and made two quarterfinals on the summer hard courts, culminating in a solid Round of 16 run in New York.
Her first opponent won’t be a pushover. Townsend scored a second-round upset over Haddad Maia at the US Open. Based on seeds, Bencic’s third-round opponent would be No.11 seed Anastasia Potapova and, in the quarterfinals, No.2 seed and last year's runner-up Maria Sakkari.
Bencic is giving herself every opportunity to qualify for a return trip to Mexico. After Guadalajara, she’s scheduled to play back-to-back tournaments in Tokyo, Beijing and Zhengzhou. She’s trying to qualify for the year-end event for the second time. She made the semifinals in her debut four years ago.
“I was fortunate to qualify in [Shenzhen] 2019,” Bencic said. “You get a lot of points; you get a lot of prize money. I was able to reach the semifinals there, which was great.
“It means you’ve had a great season, very consistent and you finished in the Top 8 of the whole world. I would love to qualify -- it’s a nice reward for the whole season.”