“I played those small events and built my confidence back up with my ranking,” she said of 2017. “Because with the wrist, you never know if it’s going to be good or going to hold. You hear so many stories of someone needing a second wrist surgery and then another one, and it wasn’t great. So definitely the first tournaments, it’s always a test to see if you can keep up. I didn’t want to play a big tournament with all the people right away and have the comeback in the public eye. I definitely needed matches and confidence.”
She is getting both in large quantities now. She beat four top-10 players on her way to the title in Dubai last month: Aryna Sabalenka, Halep, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova. She has now beaten Osaka and Pliskova in Indian Wells and, based on level of play, can be considered the favorite for the title.
This is a fascinating, power-shifting moment in women’s tennis. Osaka, 21, has been the player of the moment for the last six months, winning the singles titles at the 2018 United States Open and this year’s Australian Open.
But fresh threats to the new and fragile order continue to surface. Bianca Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian wild card, has reached the semifinals here and has a 25-3 record in tour-level matches this year.
Bencic is not emerging, of course. She is re-emerging, and though it could not have been easy to see players near her age — such as Osaka and Jelena Ostapenko, the surprise 2017 French Open champion — claim the biggest trophies, Bencic said that envy was not a driving force.
“It’s great that we have so many great players in our age group,” she said. “But it’s not like I’m thinking, ‘Ah, I’m much better than her, and she’s winning Grand Slams, and I’m not.’ I definitely don’t have this mind-set, because I feel like that person who wins a Grand Slam definitely deserves it. They must be doing something right. It’s only inspiring for me.”
To get her game right this year, Bencic decided to have her father return as her full-time coach for the first time since 2016. Her fitness has also improved significantly, something she attributes to maturity and to her Slovakian fitness coach, Martin Hromkovic, a former soccer player who is also her boyfriend.
“For me, it works right now very well,” she said. “When we are doing the work, Martin is my coach, and I’m respecting that. But as well I am feeling the support so much, like he’s doing everything he can for me and sacrificing really a lot. So I’m super happy to have him by my side.”