The top seed and third seed went head to head for the final spot in the finals at the Ricoh Open. The last time the pair met, it was at the same tournament at the quarterfinal stages last year with Belinda Bencic triumphing in an epic battle. She would be looking to make it to the finals once again, while her good friend Kristina Mladenovic was looking to reach her first final of the year.
It was a slow start for the Frenchwoman, with Bencic racing to away to take the first set. Mladenovic tightened up her serves and eventually found the crucial break to level the match. The third set intensified and it was Mladenovic who prevailed finding that important break before closing out a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Bencic solid as Mladenovic struggles
Bencic was all over the Mladenovic second serve from the start. She had her first chance to break with a double break point in the third game. The Frenchwoman saved both but followed it up with a failed attempt at a drop shot giving Bencic another bite at the cherry. Somehow Mladenovic was finding a way to snuff out the points. With Bencic knocking on the door time after time, the Frenchwoman finally caved at the fourth break point to hand to hand the top seed a 2-1 lead. The Swiss player consolidated with ease to build on her lead for 3-1.
The break points kept coming Bencic’s way, this time, a scorching backhand return winner did the trick as she got herself an opportunity to go a double break up. Two big unreturnable serves allowed Mladenovic to get the game back to deuce. However, another weak second serve gave Bencic room to blast a winner for another chance. The chances kept coming and each time the Frenchwoman’s serve came to her aid as she eventually hung on for 2-3.
The Swiss miss was having a considerably easier time on serve as Mladenovic struggled to make any headway on the Bencic serve. Bencic on her part was playing a clean game keeping her errors to a minimum. A wide backhand from the Frenchwoman once again gave the top seed a chance to break in the seventh game and this time, Mladenovic gifted the game with a double fault as the Swiss went up 5-2. Bencic went on to clinch the first set 6-2, without facing a single break point.
Mladenovic rises to the occasion and gets the crucial break
Mladenovic finally got her first look in on the Bencic serve as she attacked the Swiss player’s second serve to set up a couple of break point in the fourth game. The Swiss though did well to fend off the Frenchwoman’s efforts to level the set 2-2. Mladenovic then threw in a poor service game handing Bencic triple break point. With her back against the wall, the Frenchwoman managed to save all three points and save a few more break points to dig out a massive hold for 3-2.
The third seed was able to keep her nose in front having improved the number of second serve points won, and in the eighth game, Mladenovic had for herself three chances to get the vital break. And finally broke the Bencic serve on the second attempt with an angled forehand winner to lead 5-3. Mladenovic stood firm to close out the set and bring the match to a decider.
Frenchwoman shines on the big points and finishes the job
Serving second in the decider was adding pressure on Mladenovic who once again found herself facing break points as early as in the second game. The third seed hung on snuffing out the chances with her serves to hold for 1-1. The match was a lot closer now as the Frenchwoman was upping the tempo. Both players kept the match on serve as the match progressed.
In the crucial ninth game with the net playing a huge part, Mladenovic had two opportunities to break. The pressure was telling on Bencic though and the Frenchwoman found the break with a huge forehand. Serving for the set at 5-4, Mladenovic faced break point with Bencic still fighting to get back in the match. A brave forehand from the Frenchwoman rescued the point and she made no mistake on match point to seal her first top-10 victory of the year.
The craziest statistic for the day has to be Bencic having 17 chances to break and only being able to capitalize twice, both in the first set. Mladenovic was rock solid coming up with brave shots and using her serve effectively to stop the Swiss.
Despite the 15 aces the Frenchwoman hit, she had a considerably low percentage of second serve points won. In the first set, she won just one of those but eventually improved with the match to 36 percent. Bencic, on the other hand, was winning a decent 50 percent of them.