Belinda Bencic preparing to make her mark

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Belinda Bencic preparing to make her mark

Martina Hingis was once again in the headlines after teaming up with Sabine Lisicki to win the doubles title in Miami, her first title in seven years as her latest comeback continues.

But while Hingis was showing that she’s still more than capable of winning major titles (in doubles at least) at the age of 33, a Swiss teenager who wasn’t even born when Hingis lifted the first of her five singles Grand Slam titles, has been making her mark on the WTA Tour.

17 year old Belinda Bencic has the potential to become the next big thing in the women’s game after dominating the junior circuit in 2013, winning both the French Open and Wimbledon girl’s titles, showcasing a game which combines both subtlety and power.

Bencic is hardly a household name yet but she’s making rapid strides, breaking the top 100 for the first time this month after a run to the semi-finals of the WTA Premier event in the quaint old town of Charleston.

It was an outstanding effort as a qualifier on clay, and along the way she beat Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko, players who reached the semi-finals and quarter-finals of the French Open last year.

Since a young age, she has been coached by Hingis’ mum Melanie Monitor, with Hingis herself acting as an occasional mentor at the big tournaments.

And it’s easy to see the influence. Bencic can generate considerable power when she wants, especially off her backhand side but she describes herself as more of a thinking player than a ball basher, looking to out-smart the legions of sluggers.

“It's part of my game to not just hit the ball, but just play smart and outplay the other girl,” she says.

For a 17 year old, her ability to adapt mid-match and change her tactics is remarkable especially against seasoned competitors like Errani.

It’s easy to forget that she’s still not old enough to be allowed to play a full quota of tournaments with the WTA imposing restrictions on anyone under 18 to try and prevent burnout.

But Bencic isn’t complaining too much, she’s climbing the rankings rapidly enough as it is.

“I think for the beginning, I think it's fine like this, we just take it easy from the start,” she said. “Right now I think I have enough tournaments to play so it’s fine and I can still win some points.”

Most 17 year old novices admit to being a little starstruck by the presence of the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova in the locker room but Bencic has long since overcome that after making her WTA Tour debut at the precocious age of 14.

“It was very much like, ‘Wow, oh, my God’,” Bencic giggles as she remembers the first time she bumped into Serena and Venus in the players lounge.

“I’d seen them on TV and now I'm here. That that was few years ago now. But it wasn’t just them, there were a lot of players I idolized like Kirilenko. When I was younger, I had a poster on my wall of her, so it is very nice to beat her now! I loved her game.

I liked all the top players. I was following them on TV and I just wanted to be like them.”

Bencic has already done enough to be regarded as something of a dangerous floater at the French Open next month but beforehand she’ll return to the tour in Madrid and Rome.

She scowled slightly as she admitted she will probably have to go through the dog-eat-dog qualifying tournament for both events but such is the rate of her improvement this year that such indignities are surely only temporary.

“I think everything has improved a little bit,” she said.

“Just more consistency and it’s also more that my focus is always there, so not just playing good for one set and the other one I play bad, but now I can hold it through the match. I was a bit nervous when I started out on the pro tour full time, everything was really but I’m used to it now.

I’m not surprised that things have gone this well this quickly, I was hoping for it and I’m really happy it’s happened!”