Belinda Bencic extended her extraordinary win streak to 12 matches with a 6-3 4-6 6-3 victory over Karolina Pliskova in the Indian Wells quarter-final.
The Swiss, 22, has now defeated six top-ten players in that time, and has her eyes on a second consecutive title after her triumph in Dubai.
“It feels amazing and I cannot believe that I have beaten Pliskova today,” Bencic said in her on-court interview. “I just try my best – I’m not thinking about the victory or anything else during the match.”
She continued, “I try not to think about who is on the other side of the court. The pressure is not on me against top-ten players. They have the pressure so I can just play.”
Pliskova handed Bencic the early initiative when she made three consecutive forehand errors to hand her two break points in game three. The Swiss player seized the opportunity with a backhand winner following a second serve to 2-1 up.
The next two games could hardly have been more different. After a serene hold from Bencic, Pliskova made two double faults to raise her opponent’s hopes of another break.
Thankfully for the Czech, she recovered her composure just in time and produced two big serves to secure the hold.
After a pep-talk from her coach, Pliskova attacked the Bencic serve in the next game, and it nearly yielded a break when she established a 15-40 advantage.
However, the Swiss seemed determined to stay ahead, and she sent down three excellent serves and an ace to save both break points and close out the game.
Bencic moved 5-3 ahead with another comfortable hold. Then she capitalised on a flurry of errors from Pliskova with a precise forehand winner that sealed another break and with it the set.
Pliskova fights backEmbed from Getty Images
The pattern of the match changed significantly in the second set. Pliskova found her rhythm and started returning much better. This enabled her to earn two breaks and move into a 3-0 lead.
Bencic re-focused and almost got one of the breaks back during a lengthy fourth game, but the World No.5 dug in and saved three break points with her trademark combination of big serves and powerful groundstrokes.
Even though she was now 4-0 down, the Swiss player did not give up on the set. She battled to a hold and then profited from a series of wild errors from Pliskova that gifted her a break to love.
Bencic then held to love and almost won her fourth consecutive game when she created two more opportunities to break in game eight.
Had she got the break, it would probably have heralded the end of the match. But Pliskova produced an ace when she needed it most and then hit a backhand that was too hot for the Swiss to handle.
However, the Czech’s struggles on serve were far from over. When she was serving to level the match, she saved one break point and could only watch and admire as Bencic hit four brilliant groundstrokes to save four set points. Unfortunately for the Swiss, she netted a backhand on the fifth set point.
Bencic steps up in the deciderEmbed from Getty Images
Both players started the decider in confident fashion and the first three games passed without any major incidents.
By contrast, the fourth game was crazy. Bencic played a superb, aggressive point to earn a break point. Pliskova saved it with a ferocious backhand followed by a well-controlled.
Then the game went back and forth to deuce as the Czech had four chances to finish it and the Swiss had three more chances to break before the World No.5 eventually held.
Along the way, there was some terrific tennis for the crowd to enjoy. Pliskova hit a series of stunning winners and Bencic demonstrated just how good she is at dragging an opponent all over the court with her clever varieties and accurate groundstrokes.
The match then settled down as if nothing had happened. Both players held to love before Bencic secured another comfortable hold to lead 4-3.
After missing so many chances to break in previous games, the World No.23 finally made the decisive breakthrough in game eight.
First, she hit a crisp backhand winner down the line. Then Pliskova made three unforced errors in a row to surrender her serve.
Just like in the previous round against Naomi Osaka, Bencic was clinical when serving for the match. She drew a couple of errors from the Czech with smart play, guided a volley into the open court and then clinched the win with an unreturnable serve.
[Originally published at ubitennis.net]