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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, January 14, 2018

Belinda Bencic

Belinda Bencic toppled fifth-seeded Venus Williams, 6-3, 7-5, to reach the Australian Open second round.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

American women were left red, white and bruised in a brutal Australian Open start.

Straddling the baseline and striking with conviction, Belinda Bencic bounced 2017 finalist Venus Williams out of Melbourne with an impressive, 6-3, 7-5, victory that sent her into the Australian Open second round—and continued an opening day of misery for American women.

More: Stephens Falls To Zhang

A beaming Bencic tossed her racquet aside in joy wrapping up her first win over Williams in five career meetings and her first Grand Slam victory since the 2016 US Open.

"It was amazing, this match," Bencic said. "I think the level was great. Also, you know, she beat me four times before, so I was really happy, took my chance this time.

"Yeah, obviously just happy to be back playing. It was a very, very long time when I was out. I couldn't wait to come back, so it means a lot."

The fifth-seeded Williams joined US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 2017 semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe, Alison Riske, Taylor Townsend, Sofia Kenin and CiCi Bellis as one of seven American women to fall at the first hurdle.

"I think she played well," Williams said. "I don't think I played a bad match. She just played above and beyond. I just have to give her credit for that."

A year ago, Serena Williams swept Bencic in the Melbourne opener en route to the final where she dispatched Venus to capture her Open Era-record 23rd Grand Slam championship.

With both Serena and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka out of the field, 37-year-old Venus Williams arrived in Melbourne with high hopes. A deflating defeat marks just the third time since the 1998 Australian Open that neither Williams sister will reach the third round of a Grand Slam.

The 20-year-old Bencic beat Williams to the ball, served with greater authority and hit 10 more winners (32 to 22) than the champion who reached two of the four Grand Slam finals last year.

Drawing a Williams sister for the second year in a row, the 78th-ranked Swiss played with strong self-belief from the start.

“It's always tough to play her," Bencic said. "I think she's so incredibly fit, she plays very good, still so consistent. Yeah, I'm not sure if she played differently.

"I think it was a key today, for sure, I returned really well. I think that I didn't do in the matches before. That was, for sure, the key. Maybe she didn't know, was not so confident like last time. Last time I was not returning. She hit much more aces and everything. Yeah, I was happy about that."

Bencic partnered Roger Federer to lead Switzerland to the Hopman Cup championship earlier this month where she faced men’s serves playing mixed doubles. With Federer’s parents, Robbie and Lynette, cheering her on from the support box, Bencic dissected Williams’ second serve winning 13 of 21 points played on the American’s second delivery and breaking five times.

The 20-year-old Swiss, who underwent left wrist surgery, battled a variety of injuries last season that knocked her off the tour for five months, including the last three majors of the season.

Injury-induced inactivity caused the former world No. 7’s ranking to fall to No. 228, but Bencic is back on the winning track racking up her 29th victory in her last 32 matches.

It was Williams’ third opening-round exit in her last five appearances though it started with promise.

The 2017 finalist dropped just three points through her first three service games.

An unerring Bencic striking cleanly, particularly her declarative two-handed backhand, extended Williams earning the first break in the seventh game to forge a 4-3 lead.

Battling to back up the break, Bencic fought off five break points in the ensuing game before a spitting shower intensified a bit causing a suspension in play.

The retractable roof over Rod Laver Arena did not completely close initially, but after about a 25-minute delay play resumed with Bencic serving at deuce. The Swiss slid an ace out wide and banged a backhand winner down the line from the doubles alley finally serving out a critical game that spanned a half hour to consolidate for 5-3.

An angled backhand return dragged Williams off the court as Bencic broke for the second time in a row snatching the 58-minute set on a six-point run.

"She played really well," Williams said. "I think she started out with an ace, another winner. There was nothing I could do there. She just played amazing."

Bencic won 15 of 18 points played on her first serve and nearly tripled the former world No. 1’s winner output (14 to 5) in the opening set.

It was the first set Bencic took from Williams, who had won all eight of their prior sets.

Amping up her aggression, Williams broke to start the second set.

The backhand down the line is Bencic’s signature shot and she scripted it to spread the court effectively breaking right back to level.

The pair conspired for four consecutive breaks to start the second set.

Taking the ball on the rise and ripping deep drives to force Williams to counter off her back foot, Bencic gained double break point in the eighth game. Williams withstood that test holding for 4-all.

Serving to stay in the match, Williams worked through a demanding deuce game whipping and inside-out forehand to level.

A tremendous running forehand strike down the line helped Bencic surge through a strong hold for 6-5 against shifting the stress onto the two-time finalist’s shoulders.

Impeccable timing helped the Swiss close.

Bencic belted a backhand winner down the line then crunched a crosscourt forehand for match point. Bencic slashed a forehand winner down the line and dropped her Yonex racquet placed her hands on her hand and shot pointed to her support box.

Key Stat

Facing one of the most aggressive players in the game, Bencic hit more winners (32 to 22) and dropped just nine points on her first serve.

Talking Point

“It was difficult five months. I think the perspective changes a lot. I just came back. I’m enjoying it a lot more. I’m not thinking so much about winning or losing, I’m just happy to be on the court.”—Belinda Bencic, who missed five months of the 2017 season.

Turning Point

Serving at 4-3, Bencic fought off five break points during a marathon game that spanned a half hour, including a 25-minute rain delay, as she held tough for 5-3 then ran off six straight points to take the first set.

What’s Next?

With Williams, Stephens and 2015 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova all falling, the third quarter of the draw is open for Bencic, who reached the fourth round two years ago, to make another second-week run.


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