A year ago Belinda Bencic was a rising star in the world’s top 10 – now, disconcertingly, her career is in a downwards spiral.
Bencic looked to have the world at her feet in April 2016. The Swiss talent had just set a career-high ranking of No.7 and held two WTA titles. Not just a promising player on the rise, she’d already made it by becoming the first teenager in seven years to crack the world’s top 10.
It was in August 2015 when she really announced her arrival, sweeping to her biggest career title in Toronto. Bencic beat six Grand Slam finalists that week, including four players ranked in the top six at the time. Among those victories was one against world No.1 Serena Williams, one of only three losses the American had in arguably her most dominant season ever.
But now Bencic is the world No.131. She has recorded only eight WTA main draw wins in the past year, and just one since early October. Her win-loss record against top 50-ranked opponents in this time is 1-15.
Sure, there has been a lot of injuries – from lower back, to thigh and her wrist, the former world No.1 junior couldn’t take a trick it seemed during a horror run late last year.
“I just want to forget it and move on,” the bubbly personality said in January of her injury-affected 2016 season.
Alarmingly though, it is now four months into the 2017 season and Bencic still looks a shadow of the confident ball-striker many had anointed ‘the next big thing’ in women’s tennis.
There are no longer headlines such as “Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic can become a teenage Grand Slam champion” and “Belinda Bencic: The rise of a future tennis star.”
This future star is fast becoming a fading one.
A two-time junior Grand Slam champion, Bencic drew comparisons with compatriot Martina Hingis early in her career. Both were teen prodigies and their similarities went beyond their nationality, with Bencic also working with Hingis’ mother Melanie Molitor.
But expectations on Bencic to win Grand Slam titles have certainly dissipated, for now. The 20-year-old will need to qualify to even make the French Open main draw next month.
Just how far Bencic has fallen has been further highlighted this week.
She competed in the inaugural WTA tournament in the Switzerland city of Biel – a tournament first announced a year ago with Bencic signed on as the drawcard.
“It is a unique experience and great honour for me to be part of the WTA Tour’s return to Switzerland. Having a tournament in my home country gives me the opportunity to give something back to the tennis fans in Switzerland,” she said in an official press release announcing the event.
With her ranking now outside the top 100, she needed a wildcard just to compete. She still proved a fan favourite – but her debut was a short one.
Her singles campaign was over in a 72-minute first round loss to world No.69 German Carina Witthoeft. She served nine double faults and won just four games in a match that highlighted her desperate lack of confidence.
A doubles appearance was even shorter, knocked out in a 54-minute opening round.
Where does Bencic go from here?
She will play Fed Cup next week and then has entered an ITF tournament in Tunisia. It is a promising sign she is determined to work her way back up the ranks.
Lets hope she can, because she is far too talented to be languishing in her current position outside the top 100.
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