Get to know the youngest player left in the U.S. Open, 17-year-old Bencic
At this time last year Belinda Bencic was the No. 1 ranked junior playing in the U.S. Open junior tournament, aiming to become the first girl since 1990 to win three junior Slams in one year. A year on and Bencic earned direct entry in to the main tournament and the 17-year-old Swiss prodigy is into the fourth round of a Slam for the first time after stunning sixth seed Angelique Kerber in the third round. Bencic, who was coached from childhood by Martina Hingis' mother, Melanie Molitor, has soared up the rankings in her first year on the WTA tour. She began the season ranked No. 212 and is up to a career-high No. 58, the youngest player in the top 100. Earlier this season she made her first Premier-level semifinal at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina. Bencic is the real deal and young name we'll be seeing often in the second week of Slams. But who knew it would be so soon?
SI.com caught up with Bencic recently to talk about her first year on the pro tour, growing up Swiss, and, before we were so rudely interrupted by Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, selfies with Roger Federer.
SI.com: So when was the first time you realized you could make a living playing tennis?
Bencic: I don't know, because in the beginning I wasn't that good [laughing]. I was losing the first matches I played. But I started getting into it and started winning and it made it more fun, and I started to play more tournaments. So there wasn't a day. It was gradual.
SI.com: Is there a match that stands out to you as the one that made you believe you could be a professional?
Bencic: I just remember my first match. I lost 6-0, 6-0.
SI.com: When was that?
Bencic: I was four and my opponent was 10. It was a national tournament.
SI.com: Do you remember how you reacted after losing? Were you sad? Angry?
Bencic: My dad always told me that when I play older opponents, which I always did, that if I won just two games in each set then I already won in my mind. So sometimes I would come to the net and say "I won!" And the girl would say "No, you didn't."
SI.com: You're still young. Do you still have that mindset?
Bencic: No. Now I try to win six games each set [laughs].
SI.com: You're now a staple in the WTA locker room. Do you remember the first time you were walking around in there and were starstruck?
Bencic: Yeah, it was the first time I was in a WTA tournament in Luxembourg. So when I saw Maria Kirilenko and Venus Williams, I was like "Wow. I just saw them on the TV and now I'm here."
SI.com: Do you hang out with anyone in the locker room?
Bencic: Yes. Stefanie Voegele, Monica Puig, Jana Cepelova and also the younger players. Dominika Cibulkova and I talk. You know, just the Czech and Slovak clique.
SI.com: Who's your favorite musician?
Bencic: I like Rihanna, Calvin Harris, and Katy Perry.
SI.com: Do you listen to music when you go on court?
Bencic: No, no I can't do that. I listen to music the morning before or the evening before. But when I go on the court I don't because then I always have the music in my head. It's like the tiebreak and I'm like [starts dancing].
SI.com: What do you do to keep your mind off tennis?
Bencic: Normal things. When I'm not on the tour I'm meeting with friends, going out, going to the movies, reading books. I like reading. Music. Of course the internet.
SI.com: You say you like reading. What's your favorite book?
Bencic: I like crime books.
SI.com: Do you read in German, French or English?
Bencic: I read in German and English sometimes. I read Rafa's book and Andre Agassi's books in English.
SI.com: Oh wow. You're like a tennis nerd?
Bencic: Of course!
SI.com: Do you watch tennis?
Bencic: Yes. Whoever is in the TV I watch.
SI.com: Who are your favorite players to watch?
Bencic: Of course, Roger, Stan...
SI.com: You have to say that. You're Swiss. When we were walking in here I saw him give you a fist-bump. Do you know each other well?
Bencic: Yeah, we met the first time at the U.S. Open last year and we see each other at tournaments as well. He's very nice.
SI.com: Have you met Roger as well?
Bencic: Yes, this year at the Australian Open. I met him the first time. So it was just like "Hello, how are you."
SI.com: Did you walk up to him or did he walk up to you?
Bencic: I know his coach so he introduced me to him.
[Interrupted by Stan Wawrinka as he was doing his pre-tournament media tour]
Wawrinka: She's a bigger celebrity than me.
SI.com: She's very popular.
Wawrinka: Of course. She should be.
SI.com: She's going to do more media than you.
Wawrinka: She should come do my media for me.
Bencic: No, no, no [laughing].
SI.com: Anyway, do you have a favorite movie?
Bencic: The Hangover. I like comedy movies more.
SI.com: So you like upbeat music, comedy movies, but...crime novels?
Bencic: I like when it's interesting, the book, when cannot stop reading it.
SI.com: So you read off a Kindle or your iPad?
Bencic: Oh no. Regular books. I carry the books with me.
SI.com: When you wake up in the morning what's the first internet site you go to?
Bencic: Probably ITFTennis.com or WTATennis.com
SI.com: See? You are a tennis nerd. What would surprise people about Switzerland that we don't know? When I think of Switzerland I think of banks, chocolate, fondue...
Bencic: People always thinks it's always cold there, that we live in the mountains in the chalets. But we have also normal cities. And it's quite hot in the summer. Yeah not in the mountains all the time.
SI.com: You don't yodel?
Bencic: No. Like people will ask us how we can handle the heat on the tennis tour. We're like, we travel all the year. We're not in the snow all the time.
SI.com: Last question: If you could take a selfie with anyone who would it be?
Bencic: [Thinks a long time.] Maybe with Roger or Stan?
SI.com: I'm pretty sure you could get yourself a selfie with Roger and Stan.
Bencic: Um...maybe with Rafa?
SI.com: You're one of them now! I'm sure you could get a selfie with Rafa. Just walk up to him and ask for one.
Bencic: Oh, no. I don't think so.