INDIAN WELLS — Jelena Ostapenko and Belinda Bencic squared off for the first time (on the WTA tour) on Friday at the BNP Paribas Open in a battle of talented 20-year-olds. The two have been faces of the future for some time now, with a more in-form Ostapenko edging out Bencic, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.
Ostapenko and Bencic have a ton in common from their junior repertoire and big games to their ages and vibrant on-court personas. While the Latvian is currently in the Top 10 (at No. 6), Bencic was ranked No. 7 in 2016. They are both junior Grand Slam champions and have won multiple WTA titles, though Ostapenko gains the advantage with her 2017 French Open crown.
"This year will be tougher than last year because I finished the year [in the] Top 10 and also people expect more from me and a little bit more pressure," Ostapenko said. "I have to get used to this."
Ostapenko may be higher ranked at the moment, but Bencic owns the edge in experience; for one, this is her fifth appearance at Indian Wells, and just Ostapenko’s second. Bencic has been sniffing around the top of the game for the better part of four years, and has also survived more ups and downs than her Latvian opponent.
"I’m so used to Grand Slams since was a junior and those four places are very special," Ostapenko said. "This tournament is very big and has a lot of courts—and the atmosphere is quite similar to a Grand Slam."
Bencic underwent wrist surgery last spring, leaving the tour for five months. She thrived in her fall comeback, winning four titles (two ITF Pro Circuit events and two WTA 125K series) after her ranked had dipped outside of the Top 300.
On Friday, as both showed off their powerful (Ostapenko) and crafty (Bencic) baseline games, they also let slip their emotions. Ostapenko is famous for her many facial expressions, while Bencic tends to get fiery. Neither is afraid to express their displeasure—be it over a close line call or a bad mistake. It certainly makes for a fun show.
The good news for Bencic is she has time to get back into the groove of playing high-stake matches on the biggest stages. She has yet to regain her peak form from 2016, as was most evident at the Australian Open where she followed up an upset of Venus Williams with a loss to qualifier Luksika Kumkhum. She has won just one match since then (over Timea Babos this week).
"Most of the matches [that] I play I’m the favorite," Ostapenko said. "When I go on court I have more pressure because I know I have to win the match and I have to play on a very high level."
Ostapenko, meanwhile, breaths a sigh of relief to be through the challenging opener, and looks ahead to facing Petra Martic on Sunday.