Belinda Bencic has posted more victories over Top-10 competition than any other player in 2019. So it shouldn't come as much of a shock that she should have the stuff to knock off top seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka at the US Open.
The No. 13 Swiss did just that in Arthur Ashe Stadium on a rainy Labor Day, defeating the world No. 1 for the third time this year, 7-5, 6-4, and returning to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2014.
Bencic also halted the Japanese star's Indian Wells title defense in March.
With Novak Djokovic's departure in the Round of 16 on Sunday, it marks only the fourth time in the Open era that both the top men's and women's seeds failed to reach the quarterfinals.
"The challenge cannot be bigger than Naomi," said Bencic, who notched her tour-best ninth Top-10 win this year. "I had to be at the top of my game. I'm pleased how I managed my nerves."
"I had to take her serve early, try to anticipate, because she has a lot of power," she added. "I tried to play it a little bit like chess and tried to anticipate on the court."
Since undergoing left wrist surgery, missing five months of play and slipping outside the Top 300 in 2017, Bencic has been a woman on a mission. The 22-year-old opened the year partnering with countryman Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup and helping Switzerland retain the trophy. In Dubai, she lifted her third career singles title, defeating the likes of Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. She came into the US Open ranked No. 12.
With Osaka serving at 5-all, 30-40 in the opener, Bencic swatted a forehand past her charging opponent to move ahead, then stepped up to serve out the set.
A huge backhand pass would set up a triple break point opportunity for Bencic at 2-all in the second. Osaka subsequently surrendered the break with an untimely double fault, one of three on the day. During the changeover, the 21-year-old received a visit from the trainer, but did not receive any treatment. Fans were left to wonder if the knee injury that forced her out of the Cincinnati quarterfinals was again hindering her play. Though she would out-ace Bencic, 9-0, it wasn't enough to overcome her opponent's ground game.
Bencic finished with 29 winners to just 12 unforced errors, converting three of seven break points in the one-hour, 26-minute triumph.
Osaka was bidding to become the first woman to defend the title in New York since Serena Williams reeled off three in a row, between 2012 and 2014.
Picture by Alex Broadway/SWpix.com