Belinda Bencic is enjoying that stepping stone in a superior athlete’s life between Next Big Thing and household name, whether she realizes it or not.
“Well, I’m not recognized when I’m walking down the street,” said Bencic, No. 10 in the WTA rankings and the No. 2 seed at the Volvo Car Open. “Definitely not.”
Pretty soon, maybe?
“No, no. I don’t think so,” the almost famous 19-year-old from Switzerland said with a giggle. “I don’t think I want that. Sometimes I think it must be pretty tough for Hollywood stars. I mean, you cannot go to the supermarket normally.”
Get ready for many selfie requests in tennis hotbeds such as Paris, London, New York and Daniel Island.
Autograph seekers are just around the corner.
Bencic’s game is too good, the career arc too bright for her to remain anonymous in the fresh produce section for long.
She is a rich blend of athleticism, smarts and style that reminds people of fellow Swiss Martina Hingis. That’s in part because Bencic’s coaches are her father Ivan and Hingis’ mother, Melanie Molitor. Unlike most teens, she reads opponents well on the court and reads books off the court, preferring crime novels. Bencic speaks four languages and almost a fifth (French). She already owns WTA tour titles (Eastborne and Toronto in 2015).
Bencic (pronounced ben-chich) vaulted into the top 100 for the first time after winning six matches at the 2014 Family Circle Cup and reaching the semifinals as a qualifier before losing a three-set classic to Jana Cepelova. She opens Volvo Car Open play Wednesday against qualifier Elena Vesnina.
“I have great memories here,” Bencic said. “It’s nice to be here on the green clay. It’s a special tournament. It’s so much more relaxing than other tournaments.”
Hingis, 35 and still ranked No. 1 in doubles, won five Grand Slam singles titles and the 1997 Family Circle Cup.
The WTA once had an official mentor program in which veteran players helped rising young stars adjust to life on tour; Hingis’ mentor was Lindsay Davenport. Unofficially, the program goes on.
“I personally have Martina and her mom, so I have private mentoring,” said Bencic, who at 5-9 is two inches taller than Hingis.
That goes for off-the-court stuff, too.
“How (Hingis) handled the media, how she handles the pressures,” Bencic said. “She can give all that experience to me so maybe I won’t repeat some of the mistakes she made. It’s a good advantage for me.”
Hingis and Molitor are not always around; Bencic travels with her father, a former hockey player and businessman who escaped Cold War Czechoslovakia with his parents and resettled in Switzerland. But that Hingis family shadow is never far away.
“They don’t have different styles of coaching because my dad tries to listen to what Melanie says and go from there,” Bencic said. “I’ve been playing at her academy since I was a kid so we all have the same philosophy.”
Few players in this Volvo Car Open field are as intriguing. Bencic is just fast enough, and just strong enough but mostly relies on versatility and cardio-training. She stays in shape with frequent runs, including on trails around Daniel Island.
A run to the final on Sunday wouldn’t surprise anyone on tour.
A Volvo Car Open title, of course, would move her a bit closer to famous.
“I see attention as a positive problem to have,” Bencic said. “It’s good to have attention. It means you’re playing well. It’s part of the process. It’s what champions can handle.”
Spoken like a true champion, and someone who soon won’t be able to shop at the supermarket normally.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff