LONDON, Great Britain – Alison Riske shocked No.13 seed Belinda Bencic to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon for the first time, grinding out a gutsy 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory that took two hours 11 minutes.
Having lost out to Bencic in a titanic second-round match in which she had four match points just 12 months ago, the American gained a measure of revenge for that defeat and has progressed to the second round at SW19 for the first time, having suffered three previous third-round exits.
Just as she was unable to profit from a healthy position against the Swiss in 2018, she rallied from an improbable spot, fighting back repeatedly from tough spots, yet none more so than when serving at 0-40, 0-3 in the deciding set. After surviving that scare, the ‘s-Hertogenbosch champion, who has a strong track record on grass, powered to victory.
It was a match notable for its switches of momentum, with Bencic dominating the extremities of the opening set, winning the 11 of the first 12 points. Riske had periods in which she showed her winner-hitting capabilities in the opener, but these were infrequent compared to the spells of dominance enjoyed by the player at the other end of the court.
After squandering her early advantage as she struggled with her delivery – Bencic delivered seven double faults in total on a serving day she will want to forget – she had the ability to step up a gear at the end of the opening set and rattled through three quick games from four to take the initiative.
The players came into this match after contrasting paths to the third round. Bencic had blasted past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Kaia Kanepi by dropping only nine games, while Riske, who won the build-up tournament at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, had endured marathons to overcome both Donna Vekic and Ivana Jorovic.
The battle-hardened 29-year-old changed her approach in the second set and held onto the coattails of her opponent by getting to the net with greater frequency. And when she ground out the first break point of the set in the ninth game, she pounced on her chance before powering to a love service hold to draw level.
Bencic seemed to have wrestled the momentum back at the beginning of the third set, but her inability to convert one of three successive break points meant that it swung eve more violently in the opposite direction once Riske had got herself on the board.
As the Swiss became increasingly emotional, Riske simply clenched her fist in defiance after tucking away a tidy volley to move 4-3 ahead, a break of serve up. The mental clarity was highlighted as she delivered four unreturnable serves from 15-40 down in the next game to deliver a fatal blow on her route to victory, which was fittingly sealed with a volley winner.
WTA World No.1 Ashleigh Barty awaits for Riske in what will be the second major fourth-round match of her career.
Elise Mertens, meanwhile, had an equally dramatic passage through to the second week, defeating Wang Qiang, 6-2, 6-7(9), 6-4.
The Belgian, who will play Barbora Strycova in the fourth round, broke twice to win the last three games of the opening set, but the second would prove altogether tighter.
Indeed, there were only three break points before the tiebreak, in which the WTA World No.21 staved off three set points before failing to convert a match point. In a marathon deciding game, it was ultimately the Chinese who prevailed.
Mertens needed to show all her resolve to win the third set, too. Four times she faced down break points while the set was still on serve, but she pounced on just her third break chance since the end of the opener to secure the victory.
Carla Suárez Navarro was Saturday’s other victor, running past Lauren Davis of the USA, 6-3, 6-3, in 69 minutes.
Next up for the No.30 seed is Serena Williams.