Blueprint for Belinda Bencic to Become the WTA's Next Star

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2015

Belinda Bencic kisses the trophy she won at the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Belinda Bencic kisses the trophy she won at the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto.Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Belinda Bencic's upset win over Serena Williams in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto propelled the 18-year-old into the spotlight. A victory over Simona Halep in the final lifted Bencic to a career-high No. 12 WTA Tour ranking. It also earned her a second WTA title. 

On Tuesday, Bencic defeated No. 11 Angelique Kerber, 7-5, 6-3, at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. It's her seventh straight win. 

Rising to the top is never easy. Staying there is harder. If Bencic wants to become the WTA's next superstar, she must learn from the losers and the legends.

Tennis has a long list of former up-and-coming players who once pulled off stunning upsets only to fall out of contention and into obscurity. Remember Melanie Oudin? Once considered the next "it girl," Oudin, then 17, upset Maria Sharapova at the 2009 U.S. Open. She also knocked off No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva.

Oudin is now ranked No. 309. 

More recently, Jana Cepelova upset Serena Williams in the first round at the Family Circle Cup last year. Cepelova was ranked No. 78 at the time. After that win, the WTA called her a rising star. Cepelova is ranked No. 110 now. 

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Sloane Stephens' win over Williams at the 2013 Australian Open earned her the "next big thing" tag. For a while, Stephens appeared to back it up. She reached a career-high No. 11. However, last year she too fell into a slump and dropped out of the top 40. She's back up to No. 30 but ranked behind Bencic, Madison Keys, Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard, the latest young would-be stars. 

Muguruza, 21, defeated Williams in the second round of the 2014 French Open and is now ranked No. 8. However, she is 0-2 since reaching the finals at Wimbledon last month. 

Bouchard, like Muguruza, had a legitimate breakthrough year in 2014. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and French Open and the finals at Wimbledon. This year, Bouchard has lost 13 of her last 15 matches.

Bencic has the talent to take her game to another level, but how can she avoid the pitfalls that tripped up Oudin, Stephens and Bouchard? What does it take for a player to rise from upstart to superstar?

Don't Believe the Hype

Belinda Bencic greets Eugenie Bouchard at the net following their match at the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Belinda Bencic greets Eugenie Bouchard at the net following their match at the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto.Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Once a player reaches a certain milestone, the accolades and comparisons to tennis greats follow. Last year, after her run at the U.S. Open, the Daily Mail's Mike Dickson called Bencic "The new Martina Hingis." Even for a Swiss teen with Hingis in her corner, that's heavy praise.   

Bencic has to ignore the hype and stay focused.

It's much easier to sneak up on players when nobody sees you coming. Once a player starts winning, she gets a target on her back. Top players no longer underestimate her, and lower-ranked players can't wait to knock her off. Getting caught up in the hype is the quickest way to start a downward spiral. 

It's important for Bencic to stay on the plan that got her in this position. She should accept and acknowledge the praise but get back to the grind. 

Pursue Perfection

Of course no one is perfect. However, the greatest players pursue perfection. Even after Hall of Fame accomplishments, they tweak their game. 

"I'm playing some of my best mental tennis. My actual tennis I think I could play a lot better," Serena Williams told reporters after winning Wimbledon, her fourth consecutive Grand Slam title.

Roger Federer changed rackets after winning 17 Grand Slams.

Bencic has beautiful groundstrokes from both wings yet has plenty of room for improvement. She can't count on Williams or other top players to serve up 12 double-faults and 53 unforced errors.  

Bencic must cut down on her unforced errors and improve her second serve. And after she's improved those areas, she must continue to add elements to her game. That's how a player avoids going from rising star to has been. 

Limit Distractions

Bencic must leave the marketing to her agents and concentrate on her game. If she begins winning, the endorsements will follow.

Much is made of Sharapova's endorsement haul. Newsflash: Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic are racking in millions in endorsements, too. If you hang around the top, there will be plenty of money to be made. 

According to Forbes, five of the top six highest-earning female athletes play tennis. What do all these women have in common? They have either won a Grand Slam or were ranked No. 1. 

It's OK to cash in on success. However, Bencic can't let photo shoots interfere with practice and training. Marketing builds a brand, but winning titles cements a legacy. 

Embrace Stability 

Martina Hingis applauds Belinda Bencic during the 2015 Aegon International tournament in Eastbourne, England.
Martina Hingis applauds Belinda Bencic during the 2015 Aegon International tournament in Eastbourne, England.Julian Finney/Getty Images

Too often, young players achieve some success and then replace the teams that got them there.

Look at successful sports franchises such as the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots or the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. Those teams combined have had one coaching change in 15 years. During the same time, the Washington Redskins have had six coaching changes.  

Simona Halep has had several coaching changes in her young career, including dumping her coach just before Wimbledon this year. Bouchard ditched her coach after her breakout year. Ivanovic is on her third coach in two years. 

Meanwhile, Serena Williams has had one coaching change in her entire career: from her parents to Patrick Mouratoglou.

Sometimes a player needs to make a change. However, a revolving door for coaches is never a good thing. 

Bencic's current team includes Hingis and Hingis' mother, Melanie Molitor. It's working. Why mess with success?

Hingis told the Daily Mail's Stuart Fraser that her mother, who helped guide her career, plays a more instrumental role in Bencic's career: "My mother is even more involved because she has been helping her for the last 10 years. She has done all the work behind the scenes, to teach her how to play and how to do things. I only get the cherry on top."

With a solid team behind her and talent to build on, if Bencic stays focused and hungry, she will graduate from up-and-comer to bona fide superstar.