Neither Angelique Kerber nor Belinda Bencic can yet lay claim to a Mastercard Hopman Cup title but before they even struck a ball in today’s enticing 2018 final, they could each justifiably consider they’ve already won.
Through three singles matches after tough 2017 seasons, Kerber and Bencic are unbeaten at Perth Arena, finding their form on a stage that often provides an important marker for the season ahead.
“I feel like my game is really there,” said Bencic after wins this week over Naomi Osaka, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and CoCo Vandewewghe helped secure Switzerland’s path to a first Hopman Cup final since 2001.
“It’s good. I have a game plan when I go on the court. I feel comfortable. I know what I can do but I still have to improve obviously but it’s just really cool. I have confidence now.”
Kerber, too, is buoyed the positive start to the season in Perth, where Eugenie Bouchard, Elise Mertens and Daria Gavrilova have been managed with straightforward wins.
“I just need to play a few matches and get my confidence back out there,” Kerber said. “Play with a lot of aggression but also play with a lot of emotions, like I’m always playing.”
That’s an important mindset after recent challenges, Kerber looking to rebuild form after falling to world No.21 and Bencic on the comeback having missed five months last year following with wrist surgery.
Kerber will look to today’s final as a chance to lift her first trophy since claiming her second Grand Slam title at the 2016 US Open.
Following impressive title runs at three lower-level events after her comeback from surgery, Bencic has constructed an 18-match winning streak but is clearly inspired by the thought of a victory alongside Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup.
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) January 5, 2018
“Obviously so much,” said the 20-year-old, when asked what it would mean to claim another Swiss win with Federer this year.
“It’s a dream even playing here with Roger and obviously in front of the big crowd and everything. Really, the players are taking it all seriously. It’s definitely so nice to play here and we would love to win.”
Kerber equally appreciates the significance of teaming with Alexander Zverev to claim a Hopman Cup win for Germany, the nation’s last victory achieved by Boris Becker and Anke Huber in 1995.
“It’s exciting,” said Kerber. “We have a good team. We are also really enjoying the time on and off the court.
“Playing for Germany is always an honour. Hopman Cup, Fed Cup, Olympics, I always look forward to playing for my country. It would be huge to win.”
In team honour, there are also individual gains. Bencic’s path to reaching full potential has inevitably been helped by hitting sessions with Federer and his team, as well as three mixed doubles victories with the Grand Slam great.
For Kerber, it’s an important start to a new partnership with Wim Fissette, who replaced compatriot Torben Beltz as her coach only this year.
“I feel better, it was a good decision. It’s different when you have another voice. We have been working together for four or five weeks. It feels good, we’ve changed some things and I’m very sure now what I need to do on court,” she said of progress already made with the high-profile Belgian.
“There’s room for improvement, that is why I’m looking for more quality matches before Melbourne.”
For now, however, the focus is firmly on the final, where the German will be aiming to arrest a 0-3 losing record to the rising Swiss.
“Kerber is a top player and she always shows it but I have a good record against her,” said Bencic, who claimed her last win against Kerber in the Fed Cup first round in 2016.
In the two years since, much has changed for each player; having navigated inevitable obstacles and found their way back into an important final, there’s both a fresh start and an awareness of their proven capabilities as they take to the court again today.