Tennis: Bencic lays down marker with Adelaide International victory

ADELAIDE – Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic laid down a marker for the next fortnight’s Australian Open with a dominant 6-0, 6-2 win over Daria Kasatkina in the Adelaide International 2 final on Saturday.

The 25-year-old who will move back into the top 10 after this tournament, did not face a single break point in the 67-minute contest.

She broke Kasatkina’s first service game and then raced through the opening set as the Russian, also 25, offered almost no resistance.

Kasatkina, the world no. 8, had no answer to the power and depth of Bencic’s groundstrokes and did not get on the scoreboard until the ninth game of the match.

And although she was able to offer more of a challenge in the second set, the Russian could do nothing to stop Bencic claiming her sixth title on the WTA tour.

An ecstatic Bencic said: “It’s my best result before the Australian Open and I’ve had the most matches going into it.

“It helps me to be confident and to know and believe in myself. This is great, and I won this tournament, but in Melbourne it starts again.”

Bencic will certainly be one of the players to watch at the year’s first Grand Slam, where the 12th seed will face Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova in the first round on Tuesday.

The Tokyo Olympics singles champion, who has been ranked as high as world No. 4, led Switzerland to their first Billie Jean King Cup triumph in 2022.

Following the shock retirement of 2022 Australian Open champion Ashleigh Barty last March, the 2023 women’s field is wide open.

Bencic played Poland’s Iga Swiatek in the United Cup to open the season and pushed the world No. 1 in a high quality match.

She continued her early season form when she defeated world no. 4 Caroline Garcia in the Adelaide quarter-finals and former No. 1 Garbine Muguruza in the first round.

“I thought I played some great matches from the start of the tournament and also against different kinds of opponents,” she said.

“So I could really test myself out there in every way and go confidently into the Australian Open.”

In the men’s final, South Korean Kwon Soon-woo beat Spanish fourth seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4) for the second ATP title of his career.

In the process, the world no. 84 became the first lucky loser to win an ATP event since Marco Cecchinato in 2018 at Budapest, adding another title to his collection after emerging triumphant in Nur-Sultan in 2021.

Meanwhile, American qualifier Lauren Davis won her second WTA title on Saturday to end a six-year drought when she swept past Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto 7-6 (7-0), 6-2 in the Hobart International final.

Davis, who won her maiden title in Auckland in 2017, came through two qualifiers before storming into the final and won the trophy without dropping a set.

Cocciaretto, 21, had downed former Hobart International and Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in three sets to reach the final.

“I have a lot of emotions going through my body right now. I’m just really happy, really excited. I really had to play my best in order to win today,” said the 29-year-old who will face Danka Kovinic in the Australian Open first round.

In New Zealand, veteran Richard Gasquet fought back to stun a tearful Cameron Norrie in the Auckland Classic final for his first ATP title in nearly five years.

The 67th-ranked Frenchman prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 over the British world No. 12, and was delighted to have played his best tennis all week.

“It’s an amazing title for me, especially now at my age,” said the 36-year-old. “I really didn’t think I would win again.”

He will meet compatriot Ugo Humbert in his opening match at the Australian Open.

It was an emotional encounter for Norrie, who was raised in Auckland before switching allegiance to Britain in his late teens.

The 27-year-old, who had attended the tournament regularly as a child, said: “I wanted that one really bad but all credit to you, Richard, you hung in there and played better than me down the stretch.” REUTERS, AFP

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