DUBAI, UAE - Through a titanic week at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, former World No.7 Belinda Bencic has displayed a kind of poise reminiscent of Hopman Cup partner Roger Federer to reach her biggest final in nearly three years.
“I'm trying to be as calm as him,” she said after ending Elina Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(3). “I know I'm far, far, far away from that. I'm trying.”
The Swiss showed flashes of frustration as the second semifinal turned towards the double-defending champion, forcing her to draw on experienced gained from playing mixed doubles with the 20-time Grand Slam champion over the last three years.
“It would be wrong if it didn't help me,” she noted after upsetting reigning Roland Garros champion Simona Halep on Thursday. “I definitely think the Hopman Cup gives me so much. It's actually my favorite event of the year, just playing with all those champions. There were so many this year; it's amazing to playing against them and with them. You can learn really so much. The event is just full of energy. It's great.”
Just shy of her 22nd birthday, Bencic had plenty of success before sharing the court with Federer, breaking onto the WTA circuit in 2014 and capturing her first Premier 5 title at the Rogers Cup in 2015, culminating in a Top 10 debut to start the following season.
Various injuries long kept her from maintaining that level, though you would never know from how Bencic has played this week, recovering from final set deficits against both Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open champion Aryna Sabalenka - ultimately saving six match points - and Svitolina to surge into the final.
“I think from 3-5, I just completely zoomed out,” she said on Friday. “I think I was playing the same in the tie-break, even though I lost the match points. Somehow I was still focused, I don't know why.
"I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It's where the instincts just guide you through it."
Even as Svitolina seemed to have the momentum in the ensuing Sudden Death, it was Bencic who broke through first, claiming the win in front of an enthralled Centre Court crowd.
“You really cannot train the mental part of the tennis. You can have some mental coaches, psychologists, this and that. I think it's more about your work ethic, motivation.
“These tight moments, you cannot train it in practice, you cannot train in the gym, you can only train in the matches. I've got a lot of training this week.”
Bencic will get another crack at Petra Kvitova after the two-time Wimbledon champion won their most recent meeting at the Australian Open, and is eager to put her fighting spirit to the test once more.
“I think I'm always the most proud of how I fight. Even when I lose, I learned to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I'm fighting, when I'm giving my all, when I'm trying to do what I have to do.
“I think I'll always be proud of that. I think that will be my No.1 goal, always.”