Belinda Bencic claimed her maiden WTA Tour title after overturning world #13 Agnieszka Radwanska in three sets 6-4 4-6 6-0 to become the unseeded winner of the 2015 Aegon International.
The tenacious teenager needed over two hours to see off the one-time Wimbledon finalist Radwanska, and is herself becoming something of a force on the green stuff by bagging her 11th win from a trio of grass tournaments this year.
The Swiss star dropped just one set throughout the tournament and will take her silky skills to Wimbledon next week aiming to replicate recent results.
Bencic had Radwanska on the ropes from the start, narrowly edging the first set. Then scooping the second set with some sublime shots and denying Radwanska the chance to add to her 2008 crown at Devonshire Park.
Yet it was #9 seed Pole who started as the overwhelming favourite due to the fact that she had been dictating matches on the strength of her serve throughout the tournament.
The opening set started off with hard-hitting from Radwanska and precision play by Bencic, resulting in the pair slugging it out trying to find each other’s vulnerability.
Radwanska’s dubious backhand was targeted with Bencic’s lack of athleticism punished by deep-angled shots and the teenager finding the Pole’s trademark slices tricky.
With each of them sizing one another up in their first ever meeting, predictably games with long rallies went with serves until the sensational seventh game.
Bencic bounced back from 15-40 and took Radwanska to five deuces, sealing the game on her first break point.
Radwanska thought she had wrapped up the game but a line call challenge by Bencic went in the teenager’s favour and she soared away with the next two points.
But Radwanska broke back immediately only to fall behind 5-4.
Radwanska had thumped down the first ace of the contest and taken to her fourth deuce before a rare backhand mis-hit and a poorly executed attempted lob both missed the target to hand Bencic the initiative.
And Bencic made no mistake to grab the advantage, putting away Radwanska’s tame return on her first set point on 51 minutes.
The second set produced another enthralling battle, Radwanska racking up a 3-0 lead by approaching the net at every available opportunity to unnerve her opponent.
But her cushion was soon cut. Bencic trailed 40-15 but took seven of the next 10 points to win back a break.
Radwanska’s power game more often than not deserted her, and at times she prodded the ball as though she was playing with a frying pan.
With the contest nicely poised at 4-4, Radwanska held her serve to hold off the threat of one break point to pile the pressure on the youngster to serve to stay in the set.
The Swiss miss was not like clockwork with her shots and crumbled under pressure.
But Bencic found her groove in the third set, steaming away to a 3-0 lead courtesy of two breaks of serve.
And the rising star rattled Radwanska to ease into an unassailable 4-0 lead without having to step up a gear.
The Polish former world #2 was disheartened at the scoreline, given her first true test of the week, and it was only a question of how many games she could win for a respectable result.
Bencic ran out a worthy winner in 134 minutes and avoided a deja vu of her previous grass court final experience.
The Pole, whose diminutive size and athleticism around the court, relied too much on her predictable backhand slices that Bencic put away with aplomb or the Pole fluffed.
Bencic’s first serve placement was exquisite although her second serve remains vulnerable. She showed solid defence to save break points and her talent to escape a tricky scenario worked to her advantage.
Unseeded Bencic, watched by her Swiss compatriot mentor and 1997 Wimbledon champion Martina Hingis, explained:
“This is one of the biggest days of my life, it’s a dream come true.
“I am so happy. It’s incredible, I’ll never forget this moment of winning Eastbourne.”
The 18-year-old put her clay court woes behind her, including a 2nd Round French Open thrashing at the hands of American Madison Keys, to come up trumps on grass with a run to the final of the Topshelf Open in Holland but just one win at Birmingham’s Aegon Classic before her Eastbourne triumph.
And there’s definitely something about Bencic when she faces the leading ladies, as she lifts her game and gives opponents little time to decide on their shots.
The Swiss uses the pace of the ball well and, apart from losing the opening set to British #3 Johanna Konta and the second set against Radwanska, has been untroubled at Devonshire Park.
She overwhelmed defending champion Keys for the loss of just four games, avenging her defeat at Roland Garros, following it up with withdrawals midway through the matches by out-of-sorts Canadian Eugenie Bouchard and Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki.
Radwanska became her latest victim, unable to get to grips with the Bencic’s masterful strokes that had the Pole chasing balls all over the Court and largely pinned to the baseline.
Bencic, with two ITF singles titles to her credit, is set to add to her Eastbourne crown with a bright future ahead of her. Although many champions at Devonshire Park have failed to live up to their high expectations after grabbing the glory, there is no doubt that Bencic is destined for the big time if she can improve her second serve.
Facts about Belinda Bencic
|Born in Switzerland in 1997, first hit a tennis ball aged two years old||Father Ivan is her coach along with Melanie Molitor – Martina Hingis’ mother|
|Started training at the Melanie Molitor Tennis School aged four years old||Marcel Niederer, an ex-ice hockey player, has invested in her career|
|Won 2013 Junior French Open and 2013 Junior Wimbledon titles||She had collected £699,000 in career prize money before winning Eastbourne|