Rapid Rise to Success as a Teenager
At the end of the 2015 WTA season, Belinda Bencic seemed destined for success for years to come. At the age of 18, she had earned the ranking of 14th to end the season. She reached four tournament finals, winning two of them, including the Premier 5 tournament the Rogers Cup. On the way to her title in Toronto, she beat four of the top six players in the world. An incredible feat by that measure, made even more incredible by the fact that one of the players she topped was World #1 and all-time great Serena Williams. She added a round of 16 appearance at Wimbledon and a third round at the US Open, to add on to her appearance in the US Open quarterfinals in 2014 as a 17-year-old.
Bencic picked up in 2016 right where she left off, reaching the round of 16 in the year’s first Major, the Australian Open. She then reached the St. Petersberg final, giving her enough points to reach the top ten. She reached a career-high ranking of World #8, an impressive feat for any player, much less an 18-year-old. The sky was truly the limit for Bencic, she had won on big stages, consistently competed throughout the season, and beaten many of the top players in the world. Bencic could easily be seen as a future Major champion, and even World #1.
Early Drop of Form During the 2016 Season
As mentioned, Bencic began 2016 right where she left off in 2015. She made the semifinal in Sydney, and reach the round of 16 in the Australian Open, her best performance there. She then topped Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in straights sets in the Fed Cup and won her other singles tie and the doubles tie with Martina Hingis, factoring into all of the Swiss victories in a 3-2 win. Her next tournament was the Premier level event in St. Petersburg, where she reached the final, losing only one set before her loss in the title match. Her form then began to slip from the level she had been on.
The first hard court swing of the season saw her losing four out of her next five matches, ending with a retirement in Miami due to a lower back injury. She lost the only match she played on clay, but injuries prevented her from playing any other clay court matches including the French Open. She seemed to have regained form in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, reaching the semifinal. However, she once again lost her edge, losing three of four, with only one of those matches against a player in the top 50. Even after the losses and missed time, Bencic still sat comfortably in the top 30, with reasonable ability to regain a top rank as the WTA returned to the hard courts.
Injuries and Inability to Win Matches
She seemed to be a completely different player in the second hard court swing. Aside from making the third round at the US Open, she lost seven of eight other matches to end the year. She only retired from one of those seven losses, an encouraging sign that her health may be returning. Regardless, her form had drastically declined and her power and strong baseline game no longer troubled opponents. She had defeated eight top 10 opponents in 2015, but only one in 2016. After the disappointing 2016 season both for her play and injuries, Bencic was no longer the talking point she was the year before and had fallen to #43 in the world.
Unfortunately, she seemed even worse in 2017 to begin the year. Bencic began the year losing six of seven WTA matches on hard courts. She had some bad luck, like drawing Serena Williams in the first round of the Australian Open, but she also had some unimpressive defeats, such as her loss to World #102 Sara Errani in Miami. These early losses caused her ranking to plummet out of the top 100. She picked up match wins and a tournament title in lower level ITF events in the middle of 2017. Those events have a fraction of the points available in WTA events, but they may provide Bencic with the confidence needed to get back on track. Those events can allow her to get back into the top 100, but something drastic still needs to change for success on the WTA tour and rejuvenating a once promising career.
Bencic’s Career Outlook Going Forward
Bencic’s rise to the top ten at age 18 was incredible, but her rapid fall from that point was just as incredible. Injuries contributed to the fall, but her form dropped off compared to what she had achieved. Her poor form may be attributed to a lack of focus or mental problems. Playing on big stages and against the toughest opponents tests any player, especially a teenager. That pressure at such a young age could have taken its toll. Her countrywoman Martina Hingis faced similar pressure, and although her play did not falter, it was clear she struggled with that at such a young age. However, she has much less pressure recently due to her fall in ranking but has yet to regain her form. Her continued unimpressive play with her amount of talent suggests a larger problem either mentally or a lacking injury.
Overall, Bencic is a talented player who simply has not won matches of late. Aside from what is mentioned already, her recent performance is a testament to the challenges tennis places on its players to consistently perform. Bencic is still only 20 years old. She has accomplished more than a majority of players accomplish in a career, much less before their 21st birthday. Her fall from the top was sudden, extreme, and surprising. As difficult as the nature of tennis can be however, she can reasonably get back to the top 30 with a couple strong performances is Majors and remier events, something she is very capable of. Bencic has disappeared off the map for many tennis fans, but she is still young and it is likely a matter of when and not if she becomes a major presence again on the WTA tour.