Swiss world No.7 Belinda Bencic insists she feels pressure-free at the start of the new season, despite setting herself some high standards after a stellar 2019.
The 22-year-old, who was voted the 2019 WTA Comeback Player of the Year, returned to the top 10 for the first time since 2016 last season, thanks to some brilliant results that included title runs in Dubai and Moscow, a semi-final showing at the US Open, and a first appearance at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, where she made the last-four stage.
Seeded fourth in Adelaide this week, Bencic began her campaign at the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre with a hard-fought 6-4, 6-4 victory over her good friend and former top-10 player Daria Kasatkina.
Bencic dropped serve first in both sets but battled back each time to stave off the threat of the versatile Kasatkina. She next takes on Julia Goerges or Priscilla Hon in the second round.
“It’s really tough for me always to play her. We’re good friends, we’ve known each other a really long time from the juniors. She really has a very different game style than me, that’s why I think it’s very interesting when we play each other. I think it was a hard-fought victory today and hopefully I can get more of these,” Bencic said of her 84-minute contest with the Russian.
Bencic started her year with an opening round defeat in Shenzhen then requested a wildcard to enter the Adelaide International. The young Swiss, who claimed a whopping 11 top-10 wins last year, is aware she has a tough task ahead if she wants to match, or do better than, her impressive 2019, but isn’t too concerned about the pressure that might come her way in 2020.
“What can Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal say? I think they have more pressure than me, definitely I don’t feel that way. I had a great season last year and I had a lot of fun playing tennis and I like to play tennis so that’s why I’m not afraid of losing because I’m a target now. I’m still trying to get better and rise in the rankings, so that’s my goal,” she assured.
Earlier in the day, Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic recovered from a poor start to overcome Kazakh qualifier Yulia Putintseva 7-6(4), 6-2 and set up an intriguing clash with No.2 seed Simona Halep.
“I actually didn’t know [I was playing Simona], I never look at my second round, I was like, ‘woah, okay, Halep’. But I’m for the challenge. You want to play these matches, you want to play against the top players and what a better way than to do it here in Adelaide,” said the 52nd-ranked Tomljanovic.
Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion who is kicking off her 2020 season in Adelaide, lost her doubles opener on Monday alongside her compatriot Raluca Olaru to Kveta Peschke and Demi Schuurs 7-6(2), 4-6, [10-3].
“I’ve been very disappointed because we were leading the first set, we took the second set, and the tiebreak was a disaster. Yeah, I was a little bit upset after. But it’s a match, it’s a doubles match. I’m not very used to it. I will take it as a positive. It was good that I had the match before my singles tomorrow,” said the Romanian ex-world No.1.
American seventh-seed Sofia Kenin began her tournament with a bang, taking out qualifier Viktorija Golubic 6-0, 6-4 in just 63 minutes. Her reward is a tricky second round against her countrywoman Danielle Collins, who eased past Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 6-2.
Swinging into next round! pic.twitter.com/BnUjdF1MjT
— Sofia Kenin (@SofiaKenin) January 13, 2020
A winner of the 2019 WTA Most Improved Player award, Kenin won the trophy in Hobart this very week 12 months ago, which means Adelaide could feel like a title defence for her.
“Yeah, kind of,” said the 21-year-old. “I love coming back here and I’m going to try and get as many matches as I can here. Australia is really nice, unfortunately there are the fires going on, which is really devastating, it’s really heartbreaking. But yeah I love it here and hopefully I can keep the momentum going for here and for Melbourne.”
In more good news for American tennis fans, Sam Querrey rallied back from a set down to defeat French qualifier Gregoire Barrere 6-7(4), 6-2, 7-6(5) and set up a second round against No.3 seed and freshly-crowned Doha champion Andrey Rublev.
“I played the tour event here in 2007. This is beautiful,” the 32-year-old Querrey said. “I was telling my coach this is already one of the best 250 level tournaments on tour. It’s convenient, the city’s nice, it’s nice to walk across the bridge, the stadium is amazing. So hopefully it stays here a long time.”
— Adelaide International (@AdelaideTennis) January 13, 2020
Meanwhile, Dutch world No.10 Kiki Bertens was forced to withdraw from the Adelaide International due to injury.
“I’m not able to compete here, unfortunately,” she said. “I was really looking forward to playing here in Adelaide. I have something going on with my Achilles. I have to take little bit rest to be hopefully fit again for Melbourne.”