MELBOURNE—As recently as last July, Belinda Bencic was unable to hit a tennis ball, the result of left wrist surgery she’d had on May 3, 2017. Only in August did Bencic start to hit backhands, beginning five minutes a day with smaller racquets and soft balls.
“The start was very hard because I had the surgery and then I had the cast, and I didn’t know if it worked,” said the 20-year-old Bencic. “I was nervous. Did it help, or was this the right step? I was doubting myself a lot.”
Ranked as high as No. 7 in the world less than two years ago, Bencic’s ranking plummeted last year (there had also been a back injury that derailed her for several months in 2016). Just after the US Open, it stood at 318. Then came a long climb upwards, as Bencic did well competing at smaller events in such nations as Russia, France and Thailand. By the beginning of this week, she’d climbed back to No. 78.
All of this pain and doubt couldn’t help but occupy Bencic’s mind in the wake of one of the biggest wins of her career, a 6-3, 7-5 victory over 2017 Australian runner-up, Venus Williams.
“I don’t think I played a bad match,” said Williams. “She just played above and beyond. I just have to give her credit for that.”
A positive omen came at Bencic’s morning practice. For years, she had attempted but been unable to successfully hit the infamous tweener shot that’s become an intermittent tool in the arsenal of many a pro. But today, in her pre-match practice session, Bencic at last made one.
“I tried for so long," said Bencic. "I actually gave up already, but today I tried again. Hit the frame and went in.”