A week of shocks and surprises has blown open the bottom half, or more specifically the third quarter, of the women’s draw. Instead of Angelique Kerber playing Agnieszka Radwanska for a place in the US Open semi-finals, the conquerors of those two seeds Bencic and Peng will face off in the biggest match of their lives. Check out the Bencic vs Peng Head to Head.
Belinda Bencic has been earmarked as a future star since she won two junior Grand Slams in 2013. Still only 17 years old, her smooth transition to the senior tour has been impressive, and her ranking ascent even more so. The Swiss won her first ever main draw WTA match in Tokyo just under a year ago, ranked 326th. She is currently 58th in the standings, and set to break the top 35 after the US Open.
For all her talent and promise, few tipped Bencic to make such an impact in New York. She endured a stop-start few months on the tour after her breakthrough semi-final run in Charleston back in April, with solid achievements – a third round showing at Wimbledon – interspersed with episodes she’d rather forget, such as a double bagel loss to Caroline Wozniacki in Istanbul.
Yet she has played with poise and maturity in Flushing Meadows. During her third round 6-1, 7-5 defeat of Kerber, she controlled the ball beautifully on the big points to recover from a 1-4 second set deficit. On Sunday night, Bencic rattled Jelena Jankovic by extending rallies and forcing the vastly more experienced Serb to come up big, which she duly failed to do.
Bencic is coached by Martina Hingis’ mother, Melanie Molitor, and has been favourably compared to the legendary former world number one. “Almost everything I know, I know from her,” Bencic has said. Hingis broke all sorts of “youngest ever” records in her heyday, and Bencic has emulated her compatriot by becoming the youngest US Open quarter-finalist since 1997, the year Hingis won the title. Can she go even further?
Bencic’s last eight opponent, Shuai Peng, is enjoying a landmark moment herself. Although she has been ranked number one in doubles and scooped two major titles with partner Hsieh Su-Wei, the 28-year-old had never previously been beyond the last 16 of a Grand Slam singles event. Radwanska, Roberta Vinci and Lucie Safarova have been her victims in New York, higher ranked players who fell foul of Peng’s solid, flat hitting and coolness under pressure. The Chinese hasn’t dropped a set – hasn’t even dropped more than four games in a set – on her way to the quarter-finals.
Bencic and Peng have never met before, a fact that makes the outcome of this quarter-final even more difficult to predict. Bencic might play with a teenager’s abandon, going for the lines as she did against Kerber and Jankovic and constantly asking questions of Peng. Then again, with the eyes of the world on her, she might succumb to nerves, conscious of how a win would transform her life overnight. Peng is the steadier player and has registered more winners than unforced errors in all four of her matches so far. But she too is only human, and unlike Bencic hasn’t yet played in the imposing cauldron that is the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Prediction: After a wobbly first set, Bencic will settle into a groove and outhit Peng in three.