Belinda Bencic confirmed her status as the upcoming star of women’s tennis as she landed the AEGON International title following a fiercely fought contest with former Eastbourne champion Agnieszka Radwanska.
It’s the first title for 18-year-old Swiss player Bencic who had previously reached two WTA tour finals but never tasted victory.
This time she was not to be denied and won in three sets 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 and banked a cheque of $124,000 in front of a capacity 5,000 crowd on centre court at Devonshire Park.
There was little to choose between the two players in the first two sets as the majority of games went to either 40-30 or deuces and included numerous energy-sapping rallies on a warm but windy afternoon in Eastbourne.
Both players are known for their variety of shots rather than brute force and it made for an intriguing contest.
Radwanska, still just 26-years-of-age, is already something of a veteran on the circuit. She played in her first Wimbledon at the age of 16 and has won 14 WTA titles. The Polish player performed well this week as she beat Karolina Pliskova, Tsvetana Pironkova and Sloane Stephens to reach her first final of the year.
But Bencic, coached by former Wimbledon champion Martina Hingis, has made giant strides recently. Along with her two tour final appearances in 2015, she made it to the quarter-final of the US Open and earlier in the week beat defending champion Madison Keys and Eastbourne’s Johanna Konta on her path to the final.
She showed few signs of nerves as she matched Radwanska’s shot selection and commitment but had the added weapon of killing off rallies with ruthless efficiency. Her powerful and accurate groundstrokes helped her take the first set 6-4.
Six players withdrew from the tournament this week, not prepared to risk aggravating injuries ahead of the Grand Slam. But Radwanska, a two time Wimbledon finalist, wasn’t holding back. She gave her all to claw her way back into the match and her commitment was rewarded with the second set 6-4.
Bencic started the deciding set in aggressive fashion and broke Radwanska’s serve at the first opportunity. Bencic only played three games of her semi-final on Friday as Caroline Wozniacki withdrew with a lower back injury. Radwanska, in contrast, went three tough sets against powerful American Stephens and perhaps that proved decisive.
The Swiss teenager looked fresh as she closed out the final set 6-0 and claimed her first title - on this evidence, the first of many.
“It was a very tough match with many long rallies.” Bencic said. “I’m just so pleased that I could win today, it was hard.
“The third set started very well, I was very focused and played very free. It has not sunk in yet, I think I will realise what I achieved perhaps when I go to bed tonight or wake up tomorrow morning.”
Radwanska added, “I have had a lot of good matches, I played some good tennis. I did not like the conditions out there. It makes every match 50-50 a lot of crazy shots and weird rallies.
“It was very frustrating because you cannot play your game but I think she used the wind better than me today.”