bett1Open: When Bencic Gets Mad, She Plays Better

Belinda Bencic (photo: WTA video)

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

With the top four seeds eliminated earlier in the week, fifth seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland found herself as the highest remaining seed left in the WTA 500-series grass-court bett1Open as quarterfinal-round action took place on Steffi-Graf Stadion in Berlin Friday.

Bencic reached her second semifinal of the season and first since the Adelaide International in February after edging past No. 34 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4), in two hours and 31 minutes. She will face No. 63 Alizé Cornet in Saturday’s semifinal round after the Frenchwoman won on her fifth match-point opportunity against No. 6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), after saving a match point against her at 4-5 in the third set.

Bencic’s victory leveled her career head-to-head with Alexandrova at 2-all. She fired nine aces and hit 27 winners out of her 105 points won. Bencic withstood the 15 aces and 41 winners hit by Alexandrova and overcame being down 2-4 in the final set by winning five straight games. Both broke the other four times.

“I definitely don’t like playing her,” said Bencic of Alexandrova during an on-court interview after her win. “There’s not so much rhythm, she’s [a] very aggressive player. It’s tough to stay in the rally. I would say I am relieved. It was super tough.”

With Friday’s triumph, Bencic’s win-loss record for this season improved to 15-11 following earlier wins this week over Jule Niemeier and Petra Martic.

“It was really about serving and returning,” Bencic added. “I’m really happy I stayed tough today. Credit to [Ekaterina]. She was playing great. I was not expecting [the win] to come easy.

“I have to get mad. When I’m mad, I am playing better, I just hit the ball, and everything is easier! So, I am trying to get mad on the court.”

Meanwhile, a very determined Cornet reached her first WTA grass-court semifinal – and 25th tour-level semifinal overall – with her victory over Muguruza, who earlier in the match took two different medical time outs to tend to an injured thigh and sore foot. Points during the two hour and 40-minute match played in sunny, 34-degree Celsius conditions were even at 96. Cornet hit 19 winners and 20 unforced errors while Muguruza finished with 34 winners to 29 unforced errors. Each broke the other twice.

Cornet’s desire and heart – and her resilience – enabled her to stay in the match until the end. “We both are exhausted. It was a long match with a lot of emotion – especially during the tie break,” Cornet said during an on-court interview. “I can’t believe I made it at the end. It was very tough. I’m very, very happy. I can’t show it now because I’m exhausted, but I’m happy.”

After racing to a 6-1 lead a in the third-set tie break, Muguruza mounted a comeback against Cornet and saved four match points. “I should have gone for it a little more,” Cornet admitted in hindsight. “I kept waiting for a mistake and I was a little bit tight. It’s normal. I was resilient, too.

“I kept grinding, kept fighting until the end. I’m really glad. It’s a really nice victory for me.”

Also, 106th-ranked qualifier Liudmila Samsonova of Russia continued her winning ways on grass, reaching just her second career WTA semifinal, with a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (0) victory over No. 28 Madison Keys of the United States in two hours and 24 minutes. Samsonova hit 20 winners to 23 unforced errors compared to 28 and 15 for Keys, who outpointed the Russian 116-108.

Samsonova will face No. 7 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who advanced over No. 26 Jessica Pegula of the United States, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4. The World No. 16 Azarenka secured match point at 9:29 p.m. local time, three minutes before official sunset in Berlin.

Azarenka overcame 32 unforced errors and four breaks of her serve by hitting 22 winners and taking advantage of 23 unforced errors committed by Pegula. Azarenka broke her opponent six times and outpointed Pegula 90-81 in achieving her 12th victory of the season and third this week in Berlin.

No. 1 doubles seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, who won the Volvo Car Open in Charleston earlier this year, reached the bett1Open final with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

• Rain postponed all singles play at the WTA 250 Viking Open Birmingham in Birmingham, England, on Friday. The quarterfinals will be played Saturday morning.

Berrettini reaches semifinals in Queen’s Club debut

World No. 9 and top seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy advanced to his third career ATP Tour semifinal on grass following his 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over British No. 1 Dan Evans Friday after a lengthy rain delay held up the start of play of the cinch Championships at Queen’s Club in London.

Berrettini, who hit 35 winners – including 13 aces – and committed just 15 unforced errors, improved his 2021 win-loss record to 24-6 with his one-hour and 39-minute win over the No. 6 seed Evans. He won 81 percent (34 of 48) of his first-serve points. Meanwhile, Evans was held to just 10 winners while committing 14 unforced errors. Berrettini outpointed Evans 74-61.

“I didn’t serve that well, but I was returning well and I just played better in the last few points of the tie break,” Berrettini said during a court side interview. “After that, I felt more confident. The conditions were really tough, windy and cold. So, I took time to adapt a little bit. I am pretty happy with my performance.

“The court condition was really good. I expected slippery conditions, but it was like yesterday. I came here to win the tournament, that is my goal. Now, I am two steps away. I will think about the next match tomorrow. I am happy with the way I am playing, and my mental attitude is really good.”

Next, Berrettini will face No. 4 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, ranked 22nd, who ended the seven-match grass-court winning streak of No. 37 Marin Cilic of Croatia, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and five minutes.

In the other half of the draw, unseeded No. 41 Cameron Norrie reached his fourth semifinal of the season on his third different surface with a 6-3, 6-3 win over 309th-ranked wild card Jack Draper in a battle of the Brits on Centre Court. He will face the winner between No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, ranked 14th, and No. 65 Frances Tiafoe of the United States, which was suspended due to darkness after Shapovalov won the first set 6-3. It will be resumed Saturday morning.

On Cinema: The French

The French is American filmmaker William Klein’s revealing 1982 film about the 1981 French Open, which debuted in New York City Friday evening.

Klein was the first person in the tournament’s 90-year history to be granted full, exclusive access to the tournament and he used it to shoot the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at the 1981 French Open, which featured Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Yannick Noah and Ivan Lendl, among many of the sport’s stars. While The French (in French with English subtitles) captures the cacophony and bedlam that is part of any major sporting event, through Klein’s lens, he also reveals a level of candor from the film’s main characters – the players – that is impossible to imagine in today’s high-stakes media environment.

Filmmaker Wes Anderson, on hand to introduce the film in New York, said in advance of the film’s U.S. premiere: “For me, this film encapsulates everything I loved and love about the tennis of that moment; and in the hands of the great and singular William Klein, it is at once a gripping sports page, a fascinating piece of reportage, and a work of art.”

Passing shots

Happy 35th birthday, Richard Gasquet

By the numbers

With Alizé Cornet’s quarterfinal victory over Garbiñe Muguruza Friday at the bett1Open in Berlin, it was the 31-year-old Frenchwoman’s third Top 20 win of the year, following her victories over Elise Mertens in the second round of Charleston and Bianca Andreescu in the second round in Berlin this week. She has now defeated at least three Top 20 opponents in eight different seasons, including each year since 2017.

Quotable …”

Aliźe Cornet, 31, on reaching her first grass-court semifinal and 25th overall in her career: “It’s amazing. I had a really tough clay season. I couldn’t play well. I don’t know why. Here, playing that well on grass isn’t expected but it’s beautiful.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Paula Badosa / Hello, grass. Always a pleasure!

Petra Kvitova / Love at first forehand