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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, September 6, 2021


A gritty Belinda Bencic saved four set points sparking a 7-6(12), 6-3 win over Iga Swiatek to reach her third US Open quarterfinal.
Photo credit: Darren Carroll/USTA/US Open

Skipping to her left, Belinda Bencic bolted a clean backhand winner down the line leaving Iga Swiatek lunging at air.

Changing direction brilliantly, Bencic sustained a winning course with a spirited win.

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A gritty Bencic denied four set points in the opener and pulled out a 23-minute epic tiebreaker subduing Swiatek 7-6(12), 6-3 on Louis Armstrong Stadium to surge into her third US Open quarterfinal.

Olympic gold-medal champion Bencic withstood 2020 Roland Garros champion Swiatek's jumping topspin forehand and her own spiking back pain posting her 13th victory in her last 14 matches.

"Very happy to be through. Of course it was a very difficult match," Bencic said. "Very close tiebreak. So it was very important I think to win that first set and then start well into the second.

"I'm happy with how I fought. I felt like I could have played a little bit better, but of course Iga is a player who doesn't make it easy for you. Yeah, it was just a tricky match overall, so very happy."

The 11th-seeded Swiss has not dropped a set in four tournament wins. Bencic will play for her second straight US Open semifinal when she faces either American Shelby Rogers or 18-year-old British wild card Emma Raducanu on Wednesday.

"I’m not sure [the difference in the tiebreaker]; the set was so even," Bencic said afterward. "In the tiebreaker it’s always a little bit about luck.

"So I’m very happy I won this tiebreaker. Of course I started the second set a little more relaxed."

The seventh-seeded Swiatek is the only woman to reach round of 16 at all four Grand Slams this year, but Bencic came out dictating rallies to earn the early break.

Sharper serving is one reason for Bencic’s resurgence this season. The Swiss’ natural slice curls away from returners and sets up space for the first strike. Bencic swept Swiatek off the court with the slider then swooped in for a forehand drive volley holding for 3-1.

To that point, Swiatek’s second serve was repeatedly punished. Swiatek stepped up with a gutsy 90 mph second serve that helped her navigate a demanding hold in the fifth game.

The 2020 Roland Garros champion reached back for more on her serve swatting successive aces to hold for 3-4. By then, Swiatek had saved five of six break points.

Lunging for a forehand, Bencic grimaced a bit and was pressing her lower back with her hand as if trying to knead out a knot between points. Serving for the set at 5-4, Bencic ran into a roadblock. Swiatek opened the game with a forehand winner and the Swiss committed successive errors to drop serve for the first time.

After tweaking her back, the pace of Bencic’s serve diminished a bit and Swiatek stepped up to take her cracks in the 12th game. Banging a backhand down the line brought Swiatek a set point. Bencic erased it with a forehand down the line shouting a firm “come on!” after holding to force the tiebreaker.

In a topsy-turvy tiebreaker, each woman had her fair share of set-point chances. Swiatek saved set points at 5-6, 6-7, 7-8 and 10-11. Meanwhile, Bencic dug in to deny three more set points— At 8-9, 9-10 and 11-12—dodging a set point when Swiatek bumped an open-court backhand volley wide.

Coping with the nagging back issue and stubborn Swiatek, Bencic kept calm and converted her fifth set point when the Pole netted a forehand.

"For sure it was really tough, you know, but she plays great tennis right now," Swiatek said. "You know, you could see that during Olympics, you could see that right now.

"So I'm pretty happy with my performance, because I came back in first set and, you know, it was pretty hard to use the chances that I had in first, and win the set balls, because she was playing just great.

"I know I missed one volley, but it's not like surprising for me. I feel like it's pretty hard to get rhythm on the volley when you just play one volley during one-hour set."

Winning a complicated and tense 23-minute tiebreaker helped Bencic play with a bit more freedom.

The toughness that carried the 2019 semifinalist through the tiebreaker helped her carve out the first break of the second set. Continuing to drive the ball deep in the court, Bencic broke for 3-1 then backed up the break with conviction.

Branding her backhand down the line, Bencic held for 5-2. The 24-year-old Swiss sealed the win in two hours, four minutes.

Seven years after reaching the US Open quarterfinals in her maiden Flushing Meadows appearance, Bencic believes the experience is helping extend her stay.

"I feel like here I have had kind of my first big successes in a Grand Slam. I was 17 when I made my first quarterfinal, so that also kind of gave me this idea," Bencic said. "I definitely feel like it's just adding to the experiences, you know. I feel like from all of these situations you can always learn something.

"Now I definitely learn, you know, how it is to be in the second week, how to manage these quarterfinals, semifinals matches. I also feel Olympics helped me a lot in this, I played big matches there, as well, and I kind of know now how it feels, you know, to go for, yeah, to go deep in a tournament and an important tournament."


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