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‘Surreal’ Swiss success a sparkling springboard

6 January 2018, by Alex Sharp

Walking into meet the media, both smiles were drawn from cheek to cheek, it was evident how much this meant to both players.

“It’s kind of surreal. When you first play Hopman Cup you think you’ll be back every year, then all of a sudden, your plans change, your life changes and you have different preparations,” reflected Roger Federer.

“It was already amazing to be back last year (falling to eventual champions France). We had a great time. This year round, getting it done is an incredible feeling.”

Perth is a unique place for Federer. In 1999, he was a hitting partner for national tennis treasure Martina Hingis and Ivo Heuberger. In 2001 he lifted the trophy alongside Hingis and in 2002 he teamed up with his now wife Mirka.

“Every trip has been very memorable for me,” recalled the world No.2. “It’s a totally different feeling to when I won with Martina because I was the apprentice and she was the Master. Maybe this time it’s the other way round.

“It’s been a perfect week, I can’t thank Belinda enough. She made the difference in the final, with those three winners late on.  In my mind, she’s been the ‘MVP’ in the doubles. “

Roger is right. Bencic struck a trio of vital winners in the closing stages to snatch a 4-3(3) 4-2 mixed doubles triumph over Team Germany’s formidable duo Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber.

“Any win is unbelievably emotional for me, but I think we had such an amazing week here. With Roger I have to say it is even more special. I can’t believe we got it done, because last year was so frustrating and sad that we didn’t reach the final,” added Bencic, who chalked up three singles wins and a quadruple success in the mixed.

The 20-year-old cherishes the chance to team up with the 19-time Grand Slam champion and is determined to utilise the experience going into the 2018 campaign.

“It’s incredible just being around him,” beamed Bencic, who painted her nails red with the Swiss national flag. “You learn from the experience he passes on, it’s great for me to learn so much from the way he practises and the way he plays matches. I need to take everything I can learn from him.”

The patriotic pair hope to use their Hopman Cup heroics as a springboard for the first Grand Slam of the season beginning at Melbourne Park later this month.

“There is just a lot of positivity. It was a great week as a team, but also personally in singles I played great. I just have to pace myself in the lead up to Melbourne and I’ll be ready,” claimed the reigning Australian Open champion.

“I’m just excited to go back to Melbourne, where I had my fairytale 2017 run.

“It’s great to be the defending champion, but I will go about it the right way, I won’t be putting any extra pressure on myself.”

Meanwhile, for Bencic, the Hopman Cup success is a rich reward for a gruelling rehab, following an injury blighted 2017, and returns with a refreshed perspective for the season ahead.

“I realised today that I should be happy to be on court, in front of so many fans. It’s so much better than being home and frustrated I can’t play,” insisted Bencic, who reached the fourth round at Melbourne back in 2016. “I want to be more relaxed now and to not put so much pressure on my game. I play tennis because I want to have fun, not because of the rankings, nor the money.”

Victories over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, CoCo Vandeweghe and Naomi Osaka prove Bencic is on course to rise back to the upper echelons of the game.

“I’ve played a lot of matches, I’m winning a lot now,” added the 20-year-old, having won three consecutive titles to curtail her 2017 campaign. “I felt really good on the court. I’ll be taking so many positives out of this week and I’ve got so much confidence heading to Melbourne.”

For now, Federer and Bencic plan to savour their silverware with another “team building” dinner. The big question though is, will they return to defend their title?

“I really hope so,” said Federer. “It’s the perfect preparation, a really well-run tournament. The weather is wonderful and if I did come back I’d want Belinda as my partner.”

It sounds like the self-proclaimed ‘Team Benderer’ are poised to bring the Swiss bliss back to Perth.

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