Monday March 16th, 2015

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Belinda Bencic is back to playing the level of tennis befitting of her reputation as one of the WTA's future stars, beating No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-4 Monday to advance to the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open. The win was the 18-year-old's first over a Top 5 player and sets up a fourth-round clash against Jelena Jankovic. 

Bencic, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist last year, was having a slow start to the season when she arrived in the California desert. The teenager snapped a five-match losing streak to start the year in Dubai but was 1-6 on the season without a win over a Top 50 player. In their only previous match, last year in Istanbul, Wozniacki easily defeated Bencic 6-0, 6-0. This time she knew what to expect and kept her nerve. 

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​"In Istanbul I had maybe too much respect and I was afraid, nervous," Bencic said. "What she wants is the opponent to do many mistakes, because she's really trying to play the rallies. That's what I tried today, to hold the rallies with her and wait for my chances and be patient and then don't look for the winner too early, because that would be too many mistakes from my side. So I think I did that."

Her discipline through the rallies—she hit 21 winners to 25 unforced errors—combined with a good serving day, kept Wozniacki on the run. The Dane only earned two break point chances in the match. 

"I always watched her in TV or when I was a small girl she was idol and a role model for me and for my game," Bencic said. "Yeah, it makes me proud. Really a big moment for me."

After playing some of the best tennis of her career in the latter half of 2014, Wozniacki's 2015 results have not backed up her top five ranking. She rebounded from a poor first six months last year to make the U.S. Open final and she was the only woman on tour who consistently pushed Serena Williams. The two played four times in the last half of the season, with three of the four matches going to three tight sets. By the end of the season it wasn't crazy to think she could make a strong challenge for the Australian Open in January.

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​She started the season with a run to the Auckland final, but lost there to Venus Williams. Then came the first of what would be two lopsided, straight set losses to Victoria Azarenka. She made the semifinals of the Dubai Championships and lost to the eventual champion Simona Halep. After losing to Azarenka in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open she flew to a smaller tournament in Kuala Lumpur to win her first title of the year, beating no one ranked higher than No. 81. Despite title, final, and semifinal appearances this season, she has yet to beat anyone ranked higher than No. 14.

​Wozniacki struggled in almost every facet of her game against Bencic on Monday. She hit 39 unforced errors, including eight double-faults. She also hit 20 winners, five of which were aces. The aggressive intent that took her back into the Top 10 last year is still present this year, but the execution has not. She has also struggled with injuries, hampered by problems with her wrist and left knee.

With her least-successful surfaces of clay and grass around the corner, Wozniacki has just one more hard court tournament until the summer, next week's Sony Open in Miami.

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