It was hyped, accurately enough, as the Wimbledon battle of the future WTA stars: 17-year-old Belinda Bencic, the reigning junior girls’ champion, against the 19-year-old American via Haiti, Victoria Duval. The end result of their second-round clash suggested that Bencic is considerably further along the path to success at the highest level, as she spotted Duval a 3-1 lead in each set but slowly and surely took advantage of her fellow prodigy’s loose play to win it in an hour and 17 minutes, 6-4, 7-5.
The contrast between these two youngsters was as striking as it was appealing. Bencic is ultra-smooth and precise, always seemingly controlled. She’s the evolutionary version of Chris Evert, but armed with greater power and punch. She even resembles Chrissie.
Duval is designed more on the Venus Williams platform, although she doesn’t have Williams’ height advantage (at 6’1”, Williams is four inches taller). Duval’s footwork is outstanding, and she’s explosive and unpredictable—more prone to errors and rougher around the edges than Bencic, but more dangerous on a moment-to-moment basis and blessed with a great ability to transition from defense to offense. Put most simply, this was a contrast of cool versus hot.
They went at it hammer and tong right from the outset, with three breaks in the first three games. Duval was the first to hold, taking a lead of 3-1. As if that was a signal for Bencic to settle down as well, she followed with a hold.
In the next game, the sun peeped out over Court 18 and Duval lost the ball in it on a second serve; the double fault left her facing break point once again. She conceded the break with a backhand error. We were back to square one, at 3-all.
Bencic then played her best game of the first set. It began with a 102 M.P.H. ace and ended with a one-two punch of a forehand approach and forehand-volley winner.
Duval was unable to keep the pace. Bencic pressured her right off the bat with an inside-out forehand winner, and soon it was 15-40. Bencic then made a whistling cross-court forehand winner to secure the break for 5-3.
Bencic seemed to lose the plot when she most needed to end this chapter. After a service winner, she made some loose errors to fall behind 15-40. She hit second serves on both of the ensuing break points, but Duval played poor backhand returns to give up her lead. But at deuce, Duval unloaded a grand forehand service-return winner, and then broke Bencic with an impressive, rally-ending backhand. Duval then served to stay in it at 4-5.
The girls squabbled over four points to 30-all. But Duval followed with a double fault that gave Bencic a set point. The young Swiss converted it in surprising fashion. Her forehand service return came off the frame, a ghastly blooper, but in her eagerness to club it to death, Duval botched the easy forehand, giving the set to Bencic.
Duval also leaped out to a 3-1 lead in the second set, only to have Bencic reel her back—due in part to a collapse by Duval, who lost eight straight points to allow Bencic back to 3-all. To make matters worse, Bencic then held with ease.
But Duval found her own game again, just in a nick of time. On the one-hour mark of the match, she knocked off three unanswerable forehands and an unreturned second serve for her first love hold of the match. But Bencic’s resolve was impressive. She built a 5-4 lead, then had a match point with Duval serving to stay in it. But Bencic ended a brief, high-quality rally with a backhand error, and Duval went on to hold for 5-all.
Bencic held without trouble, and Duval crumbled under the pressure of serving to remain in contention. She began that final game with a double fault, and it ended just three points later with a forehand error.
The outstanding stats in this one were the near parity in winners—Bencic had 16, Duval 19—but the gross disparity in unforced errors: 12 for Bencic, 21 for Duval. Furthermore, Duval won just 54 percent of her first-serve points and 32 percent of her second-serve points. Bencic won 68 points to a total of 52 by Duval, which speaks of Bencic’s consistency—and Duval’s need to tighten up her promising but still unpolished game.
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