Will Belinda Bencic's new-found consistency shock the field at the WTA Finals?
Belinda Bencic was the final player to qualify for the WTA Finals in Shenzhen after a dream week in Moscow this month, which saw her lift the Kremlin Cup. It was her second title of the year and a just reward for the progress she has made.
The 22-year-old Swiss is coming into Shenzhen off the back of a very consistent year where she made the third round of the first three majors and then made a sensational run to the semi-finals of the US Open.
Against fellow top 10 opponents, Bencic has been particularly successful and leads the tour with nine wins so far, and judging by the form she showed last week in Russia she could very well add to it and be a dark horse for the title.
In this final part of our ‘Countdown to Shenzhen’ series, we analyse what has gone right for Bencic in 2019, and whether she has a legitimate chance of winning the WTA Finals title.
Bencic has become more consistent across her whole game
Since Bencic made waves by reaching the final in Tianjin in 2014, there have been moments where it was thought the Swiss would become an immediate star at a big tournament, but she has had to wait a little while longer.
Despite only turning 22 this year, she has plenty of experience on the WTA Tour but this year has turned those experiences into victories. This year is the first since 2015 where Bencic has won more matches than she's lost.
When looking at why she is having more victories, one key reason is the development of an all-round game from the Swiss. As the chart below shows, this year she has hit a greater proportion of different shot types and is also sharing where she is hitting the winners from.
As with many players on the tour, Bencic’s forehand used to be the dominant shot of her career, as a shot frequency of 45.7% and winner type percentage of 43.5% showed. But this year, those figures have come down to 43% and 35.4% respectively.
This shows that with time, Bencic is improving on all the different aspects of her play and using them more, understanding how to become more of a complete player.
Does she have a chance to win the title?
By virtue of being one of the last to qualify and being ranked number seven of eight players in the field, many may not expect Bencic to even make it to the last four.
But, as seen in her last two Grand Slam defeats, she was very close to winning against Alison Riske at Wimbledon and eventual US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.
An interesting thing to note is that throughout the Grand Slam year, in which Bencic has had 11 victories, only one of those has come after losing the first set. For her chances over the next week, she has to make a quick start otherwise it is unknown how she will respond to being behind against such high quality opponents.
Another aspect of the defeats, especially the one against Andreescu at the US Open, her unforced error count rose significantly after losing the first set in a tiebreak. In the first set, Bencic hit eight winners and 12 unforced errors. In the second, she again hit eight winners but made 18 unforced errors which ultimately cost her the match.
This makes it vital that Bencic starts well in her matches, in order to make it easier to deal with the pressure later on at such a massive event so early in her career.