DUBAI, UAE - Belinda Bencic is back. The 21-year-old, who rose to a career-high No.7 at 18-years-old in 2016, captured her first tour-level title since 2015 on Saturday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. En route to her second career Premier 5 title, Bencic defeated four consecutive Top 10 players to win the title, capping off her week with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 win over Petra Kvitova.
"I've been playing great the whole week so I'm really proud of that," Bencic said on the WTA Insider Podcast. "I'm proud of how I managed to play the final. I didn't get too nervous in the end, which was great.
"I couldn't be more happy. I'm saying it all over again, but I have a big amount of respect for Petra and it was so difficult to play the final."
Playing the role of the Comeback Kid, Bencic's title run was not short of drama. She saved six match points against Aryna Sabalenka in the Round of 16, rallied from a set down against Simona Halep, snapped two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina's 12-match winning streak by coming back from 3-5 down in the third set, and then fended off Kvitova in the final.
Bencic, who began the week at No.45, will rise to No.23 in the rankings on Monday. She will also zoom up the Porsche Race to Shenzhen Leaderboard to No.4, behind Kvitova, Naomi Osaka, and Karolina Pliskova. It was an inspired week from a player who says she's never short of inspiration playing on the WTA Tour.
"We all inspire each other," Bencic said. "And I hope we raise up each other. Actually, Elise Mertens inspired me last week. I was very surprised and happy how she won there. You know, of course Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open, Petra Kvitova as well in the Australian Open.
"We all tried to learn from each other, take the best from each other, and just rise up like this."
The affable Swiss joined the WTA Insider Podcast after her win to reflect on her week in Dubai and how she plans to keep her feet on the ground after a statement win.
Listen to the full interview:
WTA Insider: I don't think you've stopped smiling since you left the court. How does it feel to get a title like this after all these years?
Bencic: No definitely this smile cannot go away right now. Of course, I'm extremely happy. I've been playing great the whole week so I'm really proud of that. I'm proud of how I managed to play the final. I didn't get too nervous in the end, which was great.
I couldn't be more happy. I'm saying it all over again, but I have a big amount of respect for Petra and it was so difficult to play the final. I'm just really happy to win.
WTA Insider: What is the match that you're most proud of this week?
Bencic: Actually it's very hard to pick one. I think people are very surprised about this, but I think the first match against Lucie Hradecka was the most important because, of course, the first round it's never easy and I had some set points against me. There I started really being mentally strong. So it all started there, I feel.
And of course against Sabalenka to win after the match points was very important and it made me believe a lot. And then the opponents never got easier. So I thankfully didn't have enough time to think about all of it. I played every day and I won.
WTA Insider: How did it feel to get back at a big tournament like this, these type of stages, doing all the press and dealing with the attention. Did it feel different this time around?
Bencic: It always feels different because it's been so long since I've won a big tournament like this as well. And you know I'm not Roger Federer yet. I'm not winning these kind of events every day or every week, let's say. It's really impressive how much, you get off the court and there's so much press to do and so much people to meet than all of this.
So I think that's a great experience for me and I'm just trying to soak it all up. But also I can wait for the moments after where we'll be in our room and we will just be in our team and our family and to just relax and just realize what happened.
WTA Insider: How do you compare your run to the title in Toronto in 2015 to this week?
Bencic: Yeah it's very easy to compare because you saw it's the same. Four Top 10 players, it almost feels like déjà vu.
But honestly, I haven't thought about it too much actually because it's been so long. In Toronto I was up and coming and I really had nothing to lose. I mean this week as well, so in that case it's very similar. I'm just incredibly happy.
It feels great to play of course without expectations. So my plan to the future is, of course, to keep it low and just keep fighting. Even if some losses come, to always keep working and keep fighting.
WTA Insider: We talk a lot about expectations. How do you not let this title and what happened this week change what happens next?
Bencic: You know actually in Toronto I think it was great I won this title because I learned exactly that. I let it come to me a little bit much. Of course, I was young, it was the first title, a big title - of course Eastbourne was the first - but I think I learned it. I'm 21 but I can say I have this experience after me.
Of course I'm seeing the social media and seeing the news. I've seen the hype and now I'm trying to enjoy it. It's not bothering me, but I'm not trying to overrate it. I think this will be the most important thing I can do right now, to really learn from this and just make the results on the court and of course off the court you realize everything what's happening. Just to learn from this experience.
WTA Insider: Do you see your career differently and manage it differently now compared to 2015?
Bencic: I think after Toronto I was just very excited. Of course you are playing great and it was your dream to be next to these top players and beating them. I feel like everything was very rushed. I wanted to win the next, and next, next. I thought everything has to happen very quickly.
Now I'm seeing that it doesn't have to be rushed. I can take my time. I'm 21 years old. My career is so long. I only want to enjoy it. Of course the results are very important but it's most important that you're enjoying your work, your job, and then you can say after your career that you've been satisfied. Actually that's my biggest goal to say this when I retire, that I gave my best and I want to just look back at the great time.
WTA Insider: You said in your press conference that this is the fittest you've ever been, giving a lot of credit to Martin, your fitness coach. How does being fitter translate to your game?
Bencic: Yeah it was not easy for me after all the injuries you know I haven't played too much. Of course the pressure got to me a little bit. I was out and I needed a team to show me the way again.
I think with the fitness training we're doing it's just working hard. I think Martin has a great feel for me. He knows exactly what I need. And of course it takes time to transition to the tennis after the injuries. Also with the tennis, both we did it at the same time so I think it's very important for Martin to speak to my tennis coach, to my dad actually, to adapt a little bit and to see that. It takes some time to transition but it's amazing when it comes all together.
I feel like I'm moving great. I feel like I'm fit, I'm not tired. The recovery is also very important. So it's a huge credit to Martin because of all the fitness coaches I had, he's really the one that is feeling me the most. So I think that's the biggest advantage.
WTA Insider: Where do you see the improved fitness the most?
Bencic: I'm naturally more like an endurance person. I'm not very explosive. I'm not like a sprinter. But I'm good in endurance and playing long matches, so I never had problem with my cardio, with being tired in the third set.
But definitely I was working on the first step, the explosion, the speed on the court to just get to the balls a little bit better. You have to build your muscles like that, you have to do a lot of gym as well. But then also do the natural tennis movements, so doing a lot of fitness on the court as well. So the most I was focusing was the footwork, the explosion, and just being faster on the court.
WTA Insider: Players have been tweeting their congratulations to you. What do you think having a week like this signals to the locker room?
Bencic: First of all, I'm so happy when players do this. And and of course I'm trying to get along with people because it's almost like family. You see them every week. So you have to get along well together. So I'm really happy I have the friends here.
And I think the message from me, I'm not the first one to win the tournament. It's always someone else winning the tournament. But we all inspire each other. And I hope we raise up each other. Actually, Elise Mertens inspired me last week. I was very surprised and happy how she won there. You know, of course Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open, Petra Kvitova as well in the Australian Open.
We all tried to learn from each other, take the best from each other, and just rise up like this.