She is just 22 years of age, but Belinda Bencic has had quite a battle against injuries throughout her career. The Swiss was named as the Comeback Player of the Year by the WTA, having ended the year inside the top-10 after starting the year as the world number 55. Two titles and 11 top-10 wins saw Bencic finally realizing her full potential, making her debut at the prestigious year-end WTA Finals.
Amassing a 50-22 win-loss record, Bencic returned to where she belonged to after dealing with a back injury and a wrist injury during the last couple of years. Eight semifinal appearances proved her credentials as she labelled herself as one of the game’s best players currently, a force not to be reckoned with.
Her clean ball-striking ability coupled alongside her willingness to take the ball early has seen her dominating matches against the likes of two-time Major champion Naomi Osaka and defeating Petra Kvitova twice this year.
High Points: Incredible rise from the bottom
Bencic’s first WTA tournament of the year was a semifinal appearance at the Hobart International, having defeated second seed Mihaela Buzarnescu in the opening round. This allowed her to return into the top-50 after a brief exit at the end of 2018.
She proceeded to lift her country’s flag up high during Fed Cup, winning both her matches in straight sets to send Switzerland into the World Group Play-Offs. Carrying her good form into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the 45th-ranked Bencic stunned four top-10 players consecutively to win her biggest title since 2015.
Bencic was forced to save four match points against Aryna Sabalenka before coming from a set down against Simona Halep and recovering from a 3-5 final set deficit against two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina. She then overcame a mid-match hiccup against the in-form Petra Kvitova to win 900 ranking points and climb 22 spots in the ranking.
A 12-match winning streak was established as the youngster went on to upset Karolina Pliskova and world number one Naomi Osaka to reach the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open, re-entering the top-20 for the first time in her comeback from injury.
A fantastic run to the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open soon followed despite not winning a match at that tournament previously. This was also her best career result on clay. En route the last four, she was able to clinch another win over Osaka, stealing the win from 3-5 down in the decider.
Reaching her first grass-court final since 2015, Bencic was clinical at the Mallorca Open when she swept aside Amanda Anisimova and defeated world number six Angelique Kerber in three sets. She owned three match points in the final but failed to convert them.
Bencic’s form sparked towards the end of the year, having reached new heights in her career with a semifinal run at the US Open. Five years after reaching the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows as a 17-year-old, the Swiss returned to the biggest stages of tennis with an upset over top-ranked Osaka once again. She recorded her best career performance at a Major tournament with a straight-sets win over Donna Vekic but lost to eventual champion Bianca Andreescu.
Needing to reach the semifinals at the Kremlin Cup to book a spot at the WTA Finals, Bencic handled the pressure extremely well like a seasoned veteran. After surviving a massive scare in the first round, the Swiss looked like she was on a mission after strolling into the final with a terrific win over Kristina Mladenovic, effectively sealing her spot in Shenzhen. Nonetheless, she went one step further, ousting home favourite Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to take home her second title of the year.
In Shenzhen, Bencic got straight to business with wins over Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens despite experiencing an opening-day loss. On her debut, she qualified for the semifinals but her efforts were undone by a leg injury which forced her to throw in the white towel ultimately.
Low Points: Struggle for consistency
Despite her excellence, Bencic is still prone to shock defeats occasionally. It was difficult to believe that she was defeated in the second round of qualifying at the St. Petersburg Ladies’ Trophy early in the year considering how far she has risen. Furthermore, she was stunned in her opening matches at the Miami Open, Samsung Open, Wuhan Open and the Upper Austria Ladies Linz where she suffered first-round exits to lower-ranked players.
With the exception of the US Open, Bencic struggled to make her presence felt at the Grand Slams. She exited in the third round at the Australian Open and Roland Garros while losing to eventual quarterfinalist Alison Riske at Wimbledon. Only 25 per cent of her points came at the Majors, although she did manage to lift a Premier 5 title.
Season Grade: A
Bencic has been lingering outside the top-20 throughout the 15 months prior to this year, but a sudden resurgence saw her hard work paying off as she exceeded expectations and picked up from where she left off. A year ago, she was in the States competing in ITF tournaments but 12 months later she was in Shenzhen competing for the biggest paycheck in the history of tennis.
This was an unexpected revival for Bencic, who finished the year inside the top-10 for the first time in her career.