By Steve Gorten
KEY BISCAYNE – Before the start of the 2015 Miami Open, Simona Halep named Belinda Bencic as the young, up-and-coming player that has most impressed her.
If Bencic continues to play well, Halep might have to beat her to advance in this year’s tournament.
Bencic, an 18-year-old from Switzerland ranked No. 34 in the world, beat Tatjana Maria of Germany 6-4, 7-5 Sunday at Crandon Park Tennis Center to set up a fourth-round matchup against American Sloane Stephens.
The winner of that match likely will play Halep, the world’s third-ranked player and No. 3 seed at the Miami Open, in the quarterfinals.
“I’ve done great in practice all year,” Bencic said after he straight sets win. “Maybe in the beginning it didn’t pay off or I didn’t show it on the court, but I did all the work, which helps me to win now.”
Bencic, who lives and trains in nearby Boca Raton during the offseason, described Maria, who upset No. 6 seed Eugenie Bouchard in the previous round, as a tactical player. That and her slice made it a tough match, as did windy conditions.
“It was difficult for me to kill the ball,” she said. “I was just trying to outplay her. I did really well at the end. My serve helped me a lot.”
Sloane Stephens also advanced Sunday with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Johanna Larsson of Sweden. Meanwhile, fellow American Catherine Bell’s run ended with a 6-1, 6-1 loss to No. 1 seed, and defending tournament champ, Serena Williams on stadium court.
“I was pretty nervous,” said the 15-year-old Bellis. “She’s No. 1 in the world and the best of all-time for a reason. …It’s pretty scary playing her.”
Bellis said the last sentence with a smile. Despite the lopsided score, she had her moments of success, including an ace.
“It was just a really good experience for me for the future and I’m glad I got to do it,” Bellis said. She later added, “I thought it was crazy coming into this tournament and seeing the draw – even playing in this tournament, let alone being my age, playing Serena Williams. I didn’t think I was ever going to play her…I never expected that.”
Williams was complimentary of Bell after the match, and added that she’s a supporter of the player many consider the future of U.S. women’s tennis.
“I see a lot of potential,” Williams said. “She would not have potential if she wasn’t playing at this level and winning matches. And, also, she’s 15. I turned pro at 15, but I lost 1 and 1 to someone and I didn’t play for another two years. So she’s doing really well.”
Also Sunday, Halep advanced with a 6-4, 7-5 win against Camila Giorgi of Italy and Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia won in three sets against Angelique Kerber of Germany.
Other winners included Sara Errani, with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 over Garbine Muguruza of Spain. Flavia Pennetta also continued her winning ways, with a straight set victory over former Miami Open Champion Victorua Azarenka 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6).