Belinda Bencic won the first senior title of her career by beating Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4 4-6 6-0 in the Aegon International at Eastbourne. The Swiss 18-year-old is mentored by former Wimbledon champion Martina Hingis, who was watching from courtside, and whom Bencic thanked after her win.
Bencic and Radwanska, 26, had never met before on any surface and the first set of a match lasting two hours, 12 minutes was a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse. Neither is a power player and there were several long rallies as each tried to outsmart the other, Bencic sending Radwanska all over the court and the Pole drawing the teenager into the net with drop shots and producing lob winners.
The set followed serve until the seventh game, which went to five deuces and during which the Pole double-faulted for the first time. At 4-5 down Radwanska saved one set point but the Swiss took the second to serve out the set in 52 minutes.
The unseeded Bencic had dictated more of the play so far, but the beginning of the second set was a different story as Radwanska, the world No 13 and ninth seed here, raced to a 3-0 lead, at which point the Swiss called her coach – her father, Ivan – on court. Whatever he said must have done the trick as she took the next three games on the bounce before Radwanska, a Wimbledon finalist in 2012, fought back.
For the first time in the match we saw Radwanska deploying her trademark squat shots as she held both serve and nerve to break Bencic – who said afterwards she had woken up nervous about playing in her third WTA final – to take the second set in 56 minutes. But that was the end of Radwanska’s fight as Bencic stepped up a gear, sending her opponent all over the court to take the third set without loss.
Bencic won the junior titles at the French Open and Wimbledon in 2013, and here became the second-youngest player to win a WTA title. There are no grass courts in Switzerland, but Bencic has reached two finals on the greensward this year (she lost earlier this month to Camila Giorgi, of Italy, at s’Hertogenbosch) and says she prefers playing to practising on the surface. “That’s my tactic now,” she joked. “To win every single match so I don’t have to practise.”
Bencic now moves up to world No 21 and is seeded 30 at Wimbledon, where she meets the Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in Monday’s first round. She paid tribute to the help that Hingis – whose mother, Melanie Molitor, coaches Bencic – has given her, and was reminded after her win that Hingis was a teenager (16) when she won Wimbledon in 1997.
“No pressure,” Bencic said, laughing – but she certainly looks capable of causing an upset in SW19 in the coming fortnight.