- Alix Ramsay

She is one half of the Middle East’s Swiss double, although even she is happy to admit, she is the less famous half of that twosome.

Belinda Bencic is on a winning streak© FFT/Corinne Dubreuil

In Dubai, Belinda Bencic set the national standard by beating Petra Kvitova to win the third title of her career. Right, then; follow that, Roger. So Roger did and the very next week, Roger Federer won the men’s title, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas and lifting the 100th trophy of his career.

The Swiss double was complete. But even if all the cameras were focused on Federer as he reached his century, the Mighty One was hugely impressed with his countrywoman’s efforts.

He is still looking on admiringly at the BNP Paribas Open, too, where Bencic has romped into the quarter-finals without dropping a set (she now plays Karolina Pliskova) and who on Tuesday, flattened Naomi Osaka, the world No.1, 6-3, 6-1. She is now on an 11-match winning streak and flying high.

Finally fit enough


At the age of 22, she is finally fit enough to live up to the massive potential she had shown as a teenager. Aged just 18 years and 108 days, she won the Eastbourne title in 2015 becoming the second youngest woman to win a premier level tournament. Life had looked so rosy in those days.

Yet the following year, she was plagued by injury and in 2017 she needed surgery on her left wrist and missed five months of the season. By the time she came back, she was ranked outside the top 300 and basically had to start all over again.



Career stage Acte II

 

As she has fought her way back to the top – she is now ranked No.23 and rising – Federer has offered help and advice and the two played together and won together at the Hopman Cup in Australia.

“I'm very happy for her, of course,” Federer said. “It's one of those dream runs everyone wants to get on and win a bunch of matches in a row. It's a wonderful feeling for a player. You work so hard for it to string wins together. When it finally happens, it's very rewarding. So that's nice for her.

“I think she's a great girl. I think she's worked extremely hard, and I think it's been difficult for her the last few years, fighting through several injuries and just getting things right, I think, in the game but also in her head.”

Being the teenage phenomenon


While the injuries and the surgery were difficult to deal with, looking back, the break may have done her some good. From being the teenage phenomenon who was expected to do well, she disappeared from view for a while.

When she was able to get back to work, all the outside pressures had gone (the general public, even the tennis obsessives, can forget very quickly and five months away from the game is an eternity in tennis). At the same time, she had found a way to lessen the personal pressure she put on herself.



 “It was very tough moments when your body isn't playing along,” Bencic said. “But of course then you see all the other athletes, and actually it's very normal. You know, so many athletes, it's just part of our life to have some injury, to have some setbacks. Tell me any top-10 player that didn't have a surgery yet. Definitely it happened a little bit earlier for me.



“But it changed my perspective. I'm so happy to be on the court again. I'm actually enjoying I'm healthy, and I'm not putting the pressure on myself. I know how frustrating it was when I wasn't able to play at all.”

Federer double help

 

But even her comeback was not without its problems. Just as she thought she picking up momentum last year, she developed the beginnings of a stress fracture in her foot and was forced to miss another couple of months. She did not play from Indian Wells to Roland Garros – and in that time she turned to Federer for help.

With a lifetime of experience to draw upon, Federer was able to provide help both practical and theoretical. He helped find the right medics to deal with her foot injury and then gave his views on how she should structure her team. And then when they played at the Hopman Cup, he was able to see from close quarters how she worked.




“I feel like she was extremely close, I thought, this year in Perth already,” Federer said, “but still a little bit too emotional for my liking. I try to just talk to her a little bit about what I thought she needed to take it to the next level.



“We talked last year in particular a lot about her team, and I just tried to give her sound advice from somebody who's got no need to; there is no benefit for me. It's all about her. I think probably she enjoys talking to somebody who really only cares for her well-being.



From desert to desert

“I'm happy that she was able to turn things around so quickly right after Australia. I thought it was going to take much more time. I'm very impressed by the steps that she's taken by herself and also with her fitness coach and her dad, that it's all working out. I'm just really happy for them.”

And, who knows, maybe there could be another Swiss double on the cards: from the desert of the Middle East to the desert of California. They clearly like the conditions and as double acts go, they don’t get much better than Federer and Bencic.