Belinda Bencic technically came back from a deficit — 1-0 in the third set — to defeat Petra Kvitova in the Dubai final on Saturday, but no one would realistically call this a “comeback” in the classic sense. It is true that Bencic did have to “come back” and respond after Kvitova ran away with the second set, 6-1, but this was less a comeback than a resilient display in an up-and-down three-set tussle.
Fine: This specific match on Saturday wasn’t a comeback, but Bencic’s remarkable week in the United Arab Emirates represented a comeback story on many levels.
First of all, Bencic has enjoyed brief moments of success in the past eight months since returning to the WTA Tour in the 2018 grass-court season. The emphasis is on the word “brief.” Bencic’s young career has been frequently been interrupted by injuries, with the spring of 2018 representing another prolonged period on the sidelines. Bencic’s occasional moments of productivity after her return to the court didn’t last very long. They didn’t extend deep into important tournaments. She notched one quality win here and one there, but the memory of the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto — where she defeated four top-10 players en route to a Premier 5 title — represented a standard which had eluded her in the next few injury-plagued seasons.
Bencic was stuck in a very common position for an elite athlete: She just needed to become healthy long enough to show the world that she could still perform at a top level.
The tennis world wondered when something akin to Toronto in 2015 — then at age 18 — would recur.
We waited, we wondered, we watched… and now we have our answer. Bencic, a few weeks short of turning 22 years old, has replicated her feat from that Canadian summer. Back then, she defeated Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic (who was seeded fifth at that Rogers Cup), Serena Williams, and Simona Halep.
This week in Dubai, Bencic took out Aryna Sabalenka, Halep, Elina Svitolina, and Kvitova.
Bencic defeated one of the two young WTA players who took the tour by storm late in the 2018 season (Sabalenka); she defeated the player who has been the year-end World No. 1 on tour for two straight years (Halep); she beat the 2018 WTA Finals champion (Svitolina); and now the Australian Open runner-up and a player who has made three finals in the young 2019 season (Kvitova).
Her draw could not have been any tougher. Bencic could not have responded any better.
This is how a player comes back from injury and restores a career.
Yet, the comeback theme only gets better and becomes even more encompassing when you consider the details of Bencic’s triumph in Dubai:
She saved six match points (all against Sabalenka). She came back from 5-3 down in the third set to beat both Sabalenka and Svitolina. She lost the first set against Halep and stormed back to win that match in three.
The season’s two biggest tournaments — the Australian Open and now this first Premier 5 of 2019 in Dubai — have featured champions who made epic comebacks en route to championships. Naomi Osaka was down a set, 4-2, and 40-0 to Hsieh Su-Wei, with Hsieh having three points on serve for 5-2. Osaka won the title. Bencic walked through fire in Dubai to win this Premier 5 trophy.
Is this the kind of WTA season we are going to have? In a year defined by comebacks, Belinda Bencic was the consummate comeback craftswoman in Dubai.
Her career is now well and fully back on track.