Belinda Bencic is not what you’d call a calm person on the court. In fact, she is usually the exact opposite of that. Bencic often starts raging and ranting at the smallest of things going against her, and her ability to get down on herself is second to none.
But on Saturday against Anett Kontaveit, Bencic barely let out any kind of emotion as she dragged her feet from one corner of the court to another. She was in the middle of one of the worst beat-downs at this year’s Australian Open, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that by looking at her face.
It was that kind of a performance from Kontaveit. Bencic knew it was pointless to get angry at herself for the situation she was in, because there was literally nothing she could have done to get out of it.
First, a look at the numbers: Kontaveit won the first nine games of the match, and dropped just one game overall. She won 86% of her first serve points, 63% on her second serve, and never faced a break point. She hit 21 winners and just seven unforced errors, and won more than double the points that Bencic did.
Is it any surprise that the match lasted all of 49 minutes?
Perhaps even more stunning than the stat-sheet, however, was the sheer dominance displayed by Kontaveit on the court. She did almost every single thing better than the Swiss – including defense. Kontaveit was stronger, quicker and smarter, and there was no place for Bencic to hide.
The Estonian had shown glimpses of this kind of play at various moments in the past; just never at such a big stage or against such a high-quality player. She has made the fourth round of a Slam three times in her career, but her big-hitting has always been negated to some extent by her inconsistency. For Kontaveit, long three-setters are the norm rather than the exception, and keeping the ball in court is an achievement rather than second nature.
Hitting 21 winners to just 7 unforced errors, 28th seed Anett Kontaveit defeats 6th seed Belinda Bencic 60 61 in just 49 minutes. Kontaveit never faced a break point. Huge result for the Estonian, into the Round of 16. #AusOpen
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) January 25, 2020
It’s tough to control the kind of easy power that Kontaveit possesses. When you take big cuts on every shot the way she does, you tend to perpetually be on the edge of a knife.
When Kontaveit puts racquet to ball, it’s hard to predict whether it will land as a blazing winner or a cringeworthy error, and she has seemingly made her peace with that. It’s the price you pay for being a risk-taking aggressor in the modern age, and it’s as much of an adventure for the fans to watch as it must be for the player to endure.
But on Saturday, the match was more of an exhibition than an adventure. It was the kind of day where everything fell into place for no rhyme or reason, and all anyone could do was sit back and marvel.
Kontaveit connected on practically every big swing, and after a point it looked like she couldn’t miss even if she wanted to. Forehands went flying past Bencic at the speed of light, backhands dived into the corners like they had a mind of their own, and even her passing shots on the run went careening out of Bencic’s reach.
She was up against a top 10 player, but she made it look like she was teaching a club hack the ropes of professional tennis. There was such a huge difference in the two players’ level that towards the end of the first set the commentators suggested Bencic needed to start playing.
"I feel like everything I did worked really well and I'm so happy with that performance today."
7 unforced errors
86% of first serve points won
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2020
This was a stark contrast from the last time Bencic played at a Slam. At the 2019 US Open the Swiss tied defending champion Naomi Osaka up in knots with her aggressive play and on-the-rise winners, and even in her eventual loss to Bianca Andreescu she gave as good as she got. Many of us had thought at the time that Bencic’s semi-final run was the breakthrough she needed to start her journey to dominance; it was tough to imagine her being hit off the court by any player in the near future.
And yet that’s exactly what happened on Saturday. In fact, Bencic wasn’t just hit off the court; she was bulldozed off it. So inferior was she made to look by Kontaveit that when she held serve for the first time at 0-3 in the second set, it didn’t feel like the start of a comeback. It felt like she was merely delaying the inevitable.
As it turned out, she couldn’t delay it much longer. The Estonian brushed off her first dropped game like it was nothing more than a missed step on a leisurely walk through a garden, and immediately went back to blasting inch-perfect shots that left her opponent lunging in vain.
After Kontaveit put the finishing touches on what has to be described as a masterclass in power hitting, there was no anguish or irritation on Bencic’s face. Instead, she sported a wide smile as she approached the net for the handshake; Bencic knew she had been outplayed as thoroughly as anyone can ever be, and the only thing she could do was take it in good humor.
As for Kontaveit, she is now into the fourth round of a Slam for the fourth time, where she will face teenage phenom Iga Swiatek. The 24-year-old has never reached a Major quarterfinal, but she would have to like her chances this time considering the inexperience of her opponent.
And if she somehow manages to recreate her magic touch from the match against Bencic, will anyone dare to bet against her?
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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2020 14:23:18 IST