Belinda Bencic will look to slow down a red-hot Marketa Vondrousova in the final of the women's singles tournament at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Vondrousova commanded the spotlight after earning a fairly comprehensive victory over No. 2 Naomi Osaka in the third round. In the semifinal, she showed that result was no fluke as she upset fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina in straight sets.
Bencic is coming off back-to-back-to-back three-setters against seeded opponents: Barbora Krejcikova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Rybakina.
The two are slated to face off Saturday at Ariake Tennis Park:
No. 9 Belinda Bencic def. No. 15 Elena Rybakina 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-3
Marketa Vondrousova def. No. 4 Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1
Date: Saturday, July 31 at 5 a.m. ET (6 p.m. ET replay)
Watch: NBCOlympics.com (live); NBCSN (replay)
Vondrousova and Bencic crossed paths earlier this season, their only head-to-head matchup so far. The 22-year-old Czech prevailed in three sets in the third round of the Miami Open.
To the extent momentum counts for anything, Vondrousova has the clear edge heading into the final.
Osaka wasn't at her best as she exited earlier than expected, and part of that was down to the pressure Vondrousova constantly applied. She wasn't overawed by the four-time Grand Slam champion.
It was the same story in the semifinal as the left-hander finished with 14 winners and forced seven break-point opportunities against Svitolina. Svitolina, meanwhile, collected 29 unforced errors.
Bencic survived and advanced against Rybakina.
She fell behind 2-4 in the first set and had to hold serve to stay alive at 5-6. To open the third set, she dropped serve in the first game but rebounded well and pulled out the victory. The 24-year-old Swiss wasn't exactly sharp, recording 12 double faults and 34 unforced errors over the course of the match.
Securing the first set could be critical in the final.
In addition to having had a more arduous path to a potential singles gold, Bencic has teamed with Viktorija Golubic in the women's doubles competition. Together, they're one win away from gold in that tournament, with Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova their opponents in the final.
"I didn’t expect this, I didn’t imagine," Bencic said of her impressive Olympics showing so far. "I dreamed of this but we just said that we hope tomorrow we don’t wake up in our bed and it’s just a dream and we’re gonna be pinching each other. It’s not possible to describe it now."
The practical effect is that Bencic has played more tennis than Vondrousova in Tokyo, where the heat has also been a factor. If she falls behind Vondrousova, then fatigue could become an issue for Bencic.
On the other hand, getting an early edge on Vondrousova could put her in a position she hasn't experienced yet in the event considering she took the first set in each of her first five matches. Were Bencic to end that streak Saturday, the freedom and ease with which Vondrousova has played could evaporate.