It has been a year to forget for Belinda Bencic, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 in the world yesterday, and we’re not even through February.
Coming off a season in which she finished in the Top 10 for the first time, the 22-year-old has started 2020 with a 6-6 record. Her first five losses were disconcerting enough:
- In Shenzhen, she lost her opening match of the year to 58th-ranked Anna Blinkova.
- In Adelaide, she lost a quarterfinal to Danielle Collins, 6-3, 6-1.
- At the Australian Open, she lost her third-round match to Anett Kontaveit, 6-0, 6-1.
- She went 1-1 in a Fed Cup qualifier, losing her second match to 185th-ranked Leylah Fernandez.
- In St. Petersburg, following a straight-set win over crowd favorite Svetlana Kuznetsova, she took the first set over Maria Sakkari, but lost in three sets.
But all of those defeats paled in comparison to what Bencic experienced on Tuesday, in Dubai:
We have the peak tennis result of the decade so far. Belinda Bencic won the first 19 points of the match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to lead 4-0 40-0, 5 points from a golden set.— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) February 18, 2020
The final score: 1-6 6-1 6-1 to Pavlyuchenkova.
It was fool’s gold, you might say, for the Swiss shotmaker, who made everything and then nothing against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the supremely talented Russian who can combust just as quickly as Bencic did today. But Pavlyuchenkova, playing her first match since a quarterfinal run in Melbourne, was a model of consistency in one of the strangest results not just of this season, but since I can remember.
While Bencic is at the height of tennis career from a rankings perspective, she is clearly sitting behind a giant mental block.
Belinda Bencic: I'm certainly not very happy. Of course I'm disappointed. I feel like I have to work very hard to regain my confidence. I will definitely do that. I will give everything in every practice to be confident again. #DDFTennis— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 18, 2020
Credit, of course, must go to Pavlyuchenkova, who lost the first 19 points of the match before winning one, and trailed 5-0 before winning a game.
“I couldn’t feel the ball really well, and she started off very aggressive[ly], but I stayed positive, still, even at 0-5,” a shocked-looking Pavlyuchenkova said in her on-court interview. “Even though I couldn’t put the ball in the court, I was still mentally there, still fighting.
“I think that helped me, going into the second set, to have this positive mind and just fighting.”
As if the 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 defeat couldn’t sting more, the defending Dubai champion Bencic will lose 900 ranking points on Monday.