WATCH: Bencic began her week in St. Petersburg with a nail-biting three-setter with Veronika Kudermetova.

The St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy features a slew of 2021’s standout performers, all of whom aim to shake off a less-than-stellar Australian summer swing with a stabilizing week at the indoor event. Two such players, Belinda Bencic and Anett Kontaveit, will face off for the semifinals after each advanced in straight sets through their second rounds on Wednesday.

Though both women were tested in their opening round encounters—Bencic battled through a third-set tiebreaker against Veronika Kudermetova while Kontaveit staved off a surge from Jil Teichmann—clashes against Kaja Juvan and Sorana Cirstea went more according to play, if both still featured a smidge of drama.

A former world No. 4, Bencic stood atop the Olympic podium last summer and took that winning streak into the US Open quarterfinals—only for Emma Raducanu to stun the Swiss and ride that momentum into a miden major title. Injuries hampered a push for the WTA Finals and while the 24-year-old started fresh in 2022 following a bout with COVID-19, a brutal Australian Open draw saw her face an on-fire Amanda Anisimova in the second round and bow out in straight sets.

St. Petersburg, then, represents an opportunity to rediscover her Tokyo form—and where better than the tournament where she secured her Top 10 debut back in 2016 as a precocious teenager?

All the more ironic that the No. 5 seed should find herself up against 21-year-old Kaja Juvan, a Slovenian youngster who surely reminds Bencic of herself during their many mutual training blocs.

“She’s someone who works very hard, and so I expected tough rallies,” Bencic said after the match.


Juvan’s signature win remains a stunner over Venus Williams two years ago where she saved seven match points to overcome the former world No. 1 in Acapulco. In between an ill-timed bout with COVID-19, she made a pair of major third-rounds but is still in search of a consistency that would help her become a Top 100 regular.

The latter was on full display as Bencic swept through the opening set, navigating several tricky games to save a pair of break points and draw 11 unforced errors from the unseeded Slovenian.

Juvan made an admirable push in the second set, carving out a 4-2 lead and holding firm when her more experienced opposition clawed back, but the tiebreaker told the story: Bencic raced ahead 3-0 and never looked back, securing the 6-1, 7-6 (2) victory when Juvan struck a wild forehand return.

“I’m happy I won the first set easily; I had to fight in the second set but I’m happy with today’s win.”

One of four seeds who held to form as second-round action got underway, Bencic joined top seed Maria Sakkari and No. 8 seed Elise Mertens in the last eight as she prepares to next take on second-seeded Anett Kontaveit.


Bencic was one of Kontaveit’s many big wins through an unforgettable fall swing, one that helped her secure a Top 10 debut and maiden berth at the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara—where she finished runner-up to Garbiñe Muguruza.

Like her Swiss rival, Kontaveit was thought capable of making a splash Down Under, especially after an impressive run to the semifinals in Sydney. While Clara Tauson lacks Anisimova’s resume, she makes up for it in firepower, more than enough to send Kontaveit packing in Melbourne’s second round.

Shaken but undeterred, Kontaveit has made amends in some style in St. Petersburg, surviving Teichmann and playing even more solid against Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 7-5 and improving to 5-0 against the Romanian in the last two years alone.

Cirstea earned multiple upsets in Australia, knocking out Petra Kvitova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova en route to the second week, and began her St. Petersburg campaign with a thriller against Olympic silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova.

Up against her Estonian nemesis, however, Cirstea had fewer answers in key moments, converting just two of six break point opportunities and striking 34 errors to 33 winners in 91 minutes on Sibur Arena.

Kontaveit, by contrast, appears significantly more sure-footed on her beloved indoor courts, ending the match with a whopping +8 differential and 37 winners to 29 errors over two sets. Equally undefeated against Bencic in their last two matches, might the 26-year-old edge into her seventh WTA semifinal since last June?

With the Sunshine Swing on the horizon, every win counts and the game's top women look prepared to take full advantage.