Bencic captures first career clay court title at Charleston Open in epic over Jabeur

Bencic captures first career clay court title at Charleston Open in epic over Jabeur

Belinda Bencic (SUI) with the winner's trophy. (Chris Smith/Charleston Tennis LLC)

Gold medalist goes golden on 50 years of women’s tennis in South Carolina: Belinda Bencic is champion at the Credit One Charleston Open after a thrilling final.

Belinda Bencic has the first clay court title of her tennis career.

The Olympic champion from Switzerland captured a seesaw and must-see women’s singles final on Sunday at the Credit One Charleston Open, winning in two hours, 35 minutes over No. 4 seed and world No. 10 Ons Jabeur 6-1 5-7 6-4.

It’s a sixth career title for the 25-year-old Bencic, who was three points from elimination in the first round and survived a trio of three-setters in five match wins, including Sunday’s thrilling final.

Singles and doubles draws

It was the first three-setter in the Charleston final since 2015 (Kerber def. Keys), and Bencic is the first Swiss woman to win here since Martina Hingis in 1999. She’ll move up to world No. 13 after the victory, up from a current No. 21.

The tournament was celebrating 50 years of women’s professional tennis in South Carolina this week, and trophies were presented by the event’s first winner in 1973, the legendary Rosie Casals.

Casals won $30,000 for that win at Hilton Head. Bencic picked up a winner’s paycheck of $158,000.

It was a legendary match full momentum swings, with Jabeur forcing a third set having been backed against the wall in a tight second, when she held at 5-5 in an epic game.

Bencic jumped out with a break to start the decider, but the two would go back and forth – there were five total breaks in the third – before Bencic held at love in the 10th game of the third set, a Jabeur backhand sailing long.

Bencic dropped to her knees in celebration, covering her face with her hands in joy.

“This is the first tournament that I made my breakthrough at, when I was 17,” Bencic said of her run to the semifinals in 2014, when she was a qualifier ranked No. 140. “I didn’t think I would ever have another chance. As a young girl you never know. I’m so happy that I can do it.”

She continued: “I’m so happy that I can put myself here among these past champions. It means so much. Martina Hingis was my idol when I was growing up. I’m super grateful. I never thought that this was possible.”

Jabeur, 27, was emotional as she accepted her runner-up trophy. She is now 1-4 in finals and still seeks a WTA 500-level trophy.

“Hopefully it’s going to come soon,” she said after fighting back tears. “We’ve been working hard – I told myself I wasn’t going to cry. But I think that one is going to come.”

Championship Sunday: Bencic, Jabeur produce classic

There were 12 breaks of serve in all, though it was Bencic who came out of the gates firing, winning the first set 6-1 and pulling within a set of her first clay court title. She came into the championship match with a 5-8 record in finals.

“I felt like at 5-5 in the second set I had so many chances,” Bencic reflected. “I felt more relaxed in the third set. In the second set I think I got a little bit tight.

The two produced sensational tennis from midway through the second set and into the third. Bencic stayed the course through a topsy-turvy third set and said she let her body take over for her mind when the pressure was on to close.

“Serving it out, I really don’t know how” I did it, she said. “Like I was so nervous. I was just like, ‘Okay, just put the serve in.’ And then somehow my instincts, they took over.”

Disappointment was evident for Jabeur, who said she hopes to turn around her finals record moving forward. She’ll move to No. 9 in the world next week, which edges her back closer to a career high of No. 7 (Nov. 2021).

“I think about losing finals, it doesn’t help much,” Jabeur said of her frustration. “But I didn’t want to disappoint my team – especially my team has been working very hard. We’ve had really tough moments here, but hopefully next time. It’s a crying day today.”

The atmosphere was one of the best in recent memory at this event, with a packed crowd backing both players through the back-and-forth battle.

“The crowd is amazing,” Jabeur said. “I think without them I would have lost maybe two quick sets. But their support reminded me of never giving up. It’s what I needed the whole match. I tried to push until the last moment, but not this time. Hopefully next time.”

Belinda Bencic Charleston Ons Jabeur