Sunday, April 10, 2022

What do you give a woman who has Olympic gold?

photo by Daniel Ward

Her first clay court trophy, of course.

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland became the 2022 Credit One Charleston Open champion today when she defeated Ons Jabeur 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in a thrilling and highly entertaining final that lasted two hours and 35 minutes and had the crowd enthralled throughout. One is tempted to use the old expression, "everything but the kitchen sink" to describe what the players threw at each other, but that doesn't quite get it because they threw the kitchen sink, too.

There were slices, drop shots, lobs, tweeners, and winners hit like lasers to the corners of the court. Jabeur got off to a slow start, dropping the first set 1-6. Meanwhile, Bencic won 90% of her first serve points and didn't face a break point. Jabeur later said that the shadow on the court was an especially difficult obstacle for her, and she also had trouble because Bencic takes the ball so fast. "I'm someone who needs to see the bounce of the ball," she told us at her press conference. 

Ons Jabeur (photo by Daniel Ward)

The second set was a different story, as Jabeur adjusted to the court and to Bencic's speed. The shot-making was intense and varied, and Jabeur--making fewer unforced errors--had a dramatic hold of serve to go up 6-5. She would go on to win this very tense set, 7-5.

The third set was also tense. At 3-all, Jabeur hit a drop shot that Bencic was able to get, and what commenced after that was possibly the most crowd-pleasing moment of the match. The rally featured a tweener, and then a fast run by Jabeur to get to a ball that Bencic hit into the corner. Jabeur got to the ball, but not in time to position herself to make a shot, so she kicked the ball over the net.

Bencic broke for 4-3, and had a match point on Jabeur's serve at 5-3. Jabeur saved that match point, but was unable to stop Bencic from serving out the match, giving the Swiss star her sixth WTA title, and her first title on clay. Bencic's defeat of Jabeur also marked the 29th top 10 win of her career. (She also defeated world number 3 Paula Badosa in Charleston.)

photo by Daniel Ward
It was a tough loss for Jabeur, who has won only one of the five finals in which she has competed. Bencic was very complimentary of her opponent: "I think Ons, she took everything from me today. And at some point, I just really didn't know what to do anymore, and I think she played great in the second set."

"...serving it out," Bencic said, "I really don't know how. Like I was so nervous. I was just like, okay, just put the serve in. And then somehow my instincts, they took over, and I played those rallies, and I think I played great three points, and then on the match point I just kind of, yeah, put it in."

The champion went on to talk about the evolution of her career--so much was expected of her when she was very young, and then she sustained a series of injuries. 

"It's not easy. And maybe I had some years where I had to really figure out myself and find myself and kind of get back to what I'm doing the best and appreciate tennis more after the injuries. But I never felt like my career is wasted or something."

Bencic also talked about her opponent's disappointment:

"I lost a lot of finals. I don't have a positive final record. And it's hard to accept sometimes, because you feel like you play an amazing tournament and you lose the last match and you are kind of disappointed with yourself.

"...So I feel like she does everything right to make her career like the best as possible. And I feel like if you keep doing that, then it will reward you, like later or sooner. So I just believe that sport is fair at one point, but sometimes you cannot feel it right away. So sometimes you lose, but then you feel later it's good for something."

Finally, the new champion told us what she most wants to do before she leaves Charleston: "I really want to go to Krispy Kreme doughnuts."

Andreja Klepac & Magda Linette (photo by Daniel Ward)

Bencic wasn't the only champion today. Earlier, 4th seeds Andreja Klepac and Magda Linette won the doubles title when they defeated Lucie Hradecka and Sania Mirza 6-2, 4-6, 10-7 in the final. It was Linette's first doubles title. Both players were without their usual partners, so they got together right before the tournament and entered as a team at the last minute. 

Sania Mirza & Lucie Hradecka (photo by Daniel Ward)

Rosie Casals, the first Charleston champion (photo by Daniel Ward)

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