DUBAI, UAE - Belinda Bencic had to come back from the brink against No.8 seed Aryna Sabalenka, saving six match points en route to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarterfinals.
Bencic had taken the opening set against a determined Sabalenka - who started the season with a title at the Shenzhen Open and a semifinal at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy. But her opponent wouldn’t back down, taking the second and pushing Bencic to the edge in the third set, holding match point six times.
The 21-year-old Swiss finally solved the puzzle in the end, needing almost two and a half hours to emerge victorious 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(7).
“Honestly, in these kinds of matches you have no idea what’s going on,” Bencic told press about saving six match points. “You don’t think about the score. When you’re match point down, you’re already on the edge. I don’t know how I turned it around.
“My team always kept believing in me, and I’m happy because I stopped believing in myself anymore. Just happy I turned it around.”
Everything seemed to be going Bencic’s way at the start: coming into this match with a four-match winning streak, Bencic opened proceedings by holding serve under fire - saving two break points. She responded emphatically by reeling off five games in a row to go up a double break, 5-1. Although Sabalenka managed one of the breaks back, she couldn’t stop Bencic from tearing through the set to claim it 6-4.
But it was a totally different story in the second set as Sabalenka found her range. The Belarusian opened up a 3-0 lead with an early break, and her firepower pushed Bencic behind the baseline and kept her running from end to end. Bencic’s frustration mounted as she surrendered another break to Sabalenka, who took the set 6-2.
With both players dialed in and playing their best tennis, it’s no surprise that the third set evolved into a rollercoaster battle as both players struggled to maintain the lead. The pair traded breaks twice, with Sabalenka getting ahead both times and Bencic fighting her way back into it - first at 2-3 and then again at 4-5. In the latter exchange, Bencic was forced to save match point as Sabalenka tried to serve out the set from 40-30.
In fact, Bencic had to save six match points in total as Sabalenka put her under pressure time and time again: at 5-5 and 6-6 on the Bencic serve, Sabalenka created three more match points but each time Bencic drew out the errors to extend her stay in the match.
Bencic had to mount one final comeback as Sabalenka got ahead to a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker after reeling off four points in a row, but she got the job done with just one match point to win after two hours and 26 minutes on court.
“It means a lot to be in the quarterfinals,” Bencic said. “In this tournament, I’ve never gone far and it’s only my third time here. I didn’t feel quite good, because it’s the desert so the ball is flying and it’s a little tricky for my game.”
Up next for Bencic is the No.3 seed Simona Halep, who defeated Lesia Tsurenko in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5 earlier in the day.
It’ll be a big challenge for the Swiss player: Halep and Bencic have faced each other only twice previously, with Bencic claiming victory in the final of Toronto in 2015 Toronto, and Halep winning at 2014 Wimbledon.
“Simona is a champion, of course she plays a lot different than Sabalenka,” Bencic said. “I’m going to watch her tapes tomorrow, but today I just want to enjoy. I have no pressure against anyone. I’m enjoying this kind of situations.”