Bencic Wins Her First Clay Title At Charleston

Belinda Bencic (photo: WTA Tour video)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 11, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

This week’s 50th edition of the Credit One Charleston Open at Daniel Island in the South Carolina lowcountry has been a golden celebration of what’s good about tennis.

Sunday’s singles final, which paired fan favorites World No. 10 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, in brand-new Credit One Stadium on Har-Tru green clay, gave fans good reason to applaud during North America’s largest women’s-only tennis tournament. Hall of Famer Rosie Casals, who won the very first South Carolina title in 1973, was among the past champions who came back to cheer on the new generation of players and be a part of the trophy ceremony.

At the conclusion of a thrilling two-hour and 35-minute, three-set final, it was the 25-year-old Bencic who beamed the smile of a champion and consoled the tearful Jabeur at the net. They shared a very long hug before walking off the court together. The 21st-ranked Swiss star triumphed, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, to earn her first title on clay and sixth WTA singles title overall. The loss meant Jabeur is now 1-4 in finals and is still in search of her first WTA 500 title.

Coming in, neither the fourth-seeded Jabeur nor No. 10 seed Bencic had won a WTA singles title on clay, although both had come close before. Bencic was a semifinalist in Charleston in 2014 as a 17-year-old-teenager and Jabeur, 27, was also a semifinalist at this very same tournament a year ago.

So, there was plenty at stake between these two friends off the court and rivals on it. What began on Monday with a 56-player draw, all with their eyes on the first-prize pay out of $158,800 and 470 rankings points, came down to two on championship Sunday. By winning at the site of her first breakthrough moment, Bencic had indeed gone full circle. Now, she will rise up to World No. 13, while Jabeur will move up one place to World No. 9 when the new WTA Rankings come out on Monday. Next, the European spring clay season beckons.

Looking back, after Bencic strung together five straight winning games to dominate the opening set, she allowed Jabeur to rally in the second set. The first two sets suggested there would be plenty of swings of momentum – a total of five breaks of serve – still to come in the deciding set.

While both players had their chances to close it out, finally, Bencic broke Jabeur for the seventh time in the match to go ahead 4-3 and consolidated it for 5-3. Then, the Tunisian valiantly saved a championship point in the ninth game with a forehand winner and held serve to cap an arduous 12-point game. However, Bencic held at love in the next – and final – game and won the title on her second championship-point opportunity after Jabeur sailed a second shot return long.

“Like I was so nervous,” Bencic would say in her post-match press conference. “I was just like, ‘Okay, just put the serve in.’ And then, somehow, like my instincts, they took over, and I played those rallies, and I think I played three great points. And then, on the match point, I just kind of, yeah, put it in. And, thankfully, she missed, and it was really just emotions like feeling over me.”

Upon winning, Bencic immediately dropped down to her knees and began a moment of joyful celebration. She covered her face with her hands, then looked up at her team at the other end of Credit One Stadium as much to seek validation as to share her victory with them. She eventually ran to the other end and shared plenty of hugs.

“This means so much to me, because this was my first tournament where I kind of made my breakthrough when I was 17 years-old; I played the semifinals,” Bencic said during her trophy acceptance speech. “It means so much for me to win this tournament because when I lost in the semifinal I was not sure if I would every get another chance.”

Indeed, Bencic had come a long way in eight years, after being a 140th-ranked qualifier at the 2014 Charleston event who did good. En route to winning Sunday’s title match, Bencic came back from a set down to beat Wang Xiyu of China in her opening match, then fended off Czech teen Linda Fruhvirtova in the second, beat No. 9 seed and 2019 champion Madison Keys of the United States in the third round, eliminated No. 2 seed Paula Badosa of Spain in the quarterfinals and moved past Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia in the semifinals to set up Sunday’s final against Jabeur.

“I’m so happy that I can put myself among these past champions,” Bencic added. “It means so much. Martina Hingis was my idol when I was growing up. I’m super grateful. I never thought that this was possible.”

Klepac and Linette win Charleston Open doubles title

Playing in their first tournament as a team, Andreja Klepac of Slovenia and Magna Linette of Poland won the Credit One Charleston Open doubles title – an 11th career title for Klepac and first for Linette.

The newly-formed team defeated Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic and Sania Mirza of India, 6-2, 4-6, 10-7, in an hour and 24 minutes. Klepac and Linette outpointed their opponents 62-60.

“We actually paired up 10 minutes before the sign-up,” Linette said, admitting that Klepac had texted her to ask to play. “Thank you [Andreja] so much for waiting all those [singles] days.”

Due to numerous weather delays backing up the doubles draw, Klepac and Linette played both their quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Saturday before returning to play in Sunday’s title match.

“It’s an amazing stadium,” Klepac said. “It’s really special to be back in the final and this time winning it.”

Klepac was a Charleston runner-up in 2018 paired with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

Mirza came in as a two-time champion at Charleston, in 2011 and 2015. This was her first time back after leaving the WTA Tour in 2018 to give birth to her son, Izhaan.

“You guys deserved to win here today,” Mirza said during the trophy ceremony. “I’ve won here a couple times and have incredible memories here, especially turning No. 1 in 2015.”

It was the third time that Hradecka has finished as runner-up in Charleston, having been to the finals in 2017 and 2021.

By the numbers

Belinda Bencic, the first Swiss finalist in Charleston since Patty Schnyder in 2006, became the first Swiss champion at the tournament since Martina Hingis won in 1999.

“Quotable …”

“I told myself not to cry, but it’s very tough because we’ve been working very hard. I don’t know how many finals we’ve lost now, but hopefully it’s going to come soon.”

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, fighting back tears during her acceptance speech, after losing the Credit One Charleston Open final to Belinda Bencic.