NEW YORK (Reuters) - From a 17-year-old U.S. Open quarter-finalist and heir apparent to Martina Hingis to a battled-hardened 22-year-old poised to enter her first-ever Grand Slam semi-final, Belinda Bencic has packed a wealth of experience into her deceptively short career.
Perhaps that is why she calls herself “an older young player.”
“I don’t call myself a veteran. I just call myself... a player that maybe has some experience probably, a little bit more than for my age,” the Swiss told reporters at Flushing Meadows, after downing her quarter-final opponent Donna Vekic 7-6(5) 6-3 on Wednesday.
Bencic, ranked 12 in the world, burst onto the scene at the U.S. Open five years ago as a protege of compatriot Hingis’ mother, Melanie Molitor, and captured the imagination of tennis’ fickle fanbase eager to spot the sport’s next big thing.
Yet after becoming the youngest player to reach the tournament’s quarters since Hingis, who went on to win five Grand Slam singles titles, a series of injuries in subsequent years saw her fall out of the spotlight.
Having climbed to number seven in the world rankings in 2016, she dropped to 165 at the end of the following year.
“People always think I’m a little bit older than I actually am, because I’ve been here since 16, 17,” Bencic said after beating holder and top seed Naomi Osaka earlier this week.
“Everyone expected (me) to go just up. That’s not how tennis goes.
“I think all true athletes have to overcome obstacles, injuries, just tough times.”
For now, though, Bencic is enjoying the view after an arduous climb back to the top.
“I was dreaming, of course, about this day coming, but you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “You’re not thinking about it. You’re just right in the moment.”
While her win against Vekic was relatively straightforward, there were still some nervy moments for her father Ivan, a former pro hockey player who serves as her coach.
“Even in the tough times he’s still my father,” said Bencic. “I think he almost died today by heart attack.”
Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Toby Davis