CATANDUVA, BRAZIL: It’s been a fine, albeit testing, season so far for 17-year-old Belinda Bencic.
After breaking the Top 100 in the WTA rankings for the first time in her career and reaching her first WTA Premier semifinal in Charleston, the world No. 91 will look to pass another stern test this weekend. Bencic is set to be Switzerland's leader in its Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off tie against Brazil.
The Brazilian team has a chance to earn a place in World Group II for the first time in history and knows its fortunes may rest on the form of the youngest member of the opposing team.
Brazil's captain Carla Tiene has analysed their main opponent and believes Bencic may face difficulties in the tie.
“She is a young player with a temper and we know our fans aren't famed for being tranquil. So it may bother her, although she is a very talented player and has some kind of experience on tour. Let’s see how she is going to control her nerves,” said Tiene.
Bencic will face Paula Christina Goncalves in the second rubber of the tie - her first taste of the partisan home crowd of 1,500. With the courage of a youngster, she doesn’t appear scared of the challenge in front of her.
“I had a pretty good start to the season, I have been playing very well, so I don’t feel any extra pressure,” said the Swiss No. 1.
Switzerland's Bencic burst on to the Fed Cup scene in World Group II this February, defeating Alize Cornet and Virginie Razzano in straight sets to put the Swiss on the brink of a World Group play-off, only to fall at the final hurdle in the deciding doubles. Swiss captain Heinz Guenthardt believes this experience will help her in Brazil.
“It certainly is an advantage for Brazilians to play home, but our players are used to play all around the world," he said. "I am pretty confident they will be able to adapt to the conditions.
“[As for] Belinda’s age, most things are for the first time. She is pretty much used to things and she is showing in tournaments she is ready to face anyone," said Guenthardt.
Brazilian hopes also rest on their No. 1 Teliana Pereira. She reached No. 92 in the WTA rankings this week and was a confirmed entrant into the singles main draw at Roland Garros for the first time in her career - the first female tennis player from her country to achieve the feat in 20 years.
“I am in the best moment of my career. The victory over Sorana Cirstea in Charleston gave me a lot of confidence," said Pereira. "I think I can face anyone in the circuit right now. I believe I can win my matches here and lead our team to the World Group II."
The Brazilian No. 1 is going to face Timea Bacsinszky for the fourth time in her career. Pereira holds the upper hand on the Swiss No. 2, having won two of their three previous meetings at ITF Pro Circuit level - at Buenos Aires in 2012 and Seville in 2013. On the other hand, Goncalves has lost the only match she played against Bencic - in Dothan (USA) last year.
The reverse singles matches will be played on Sunday, with Pereira facing Bencic in a highly anticipated encounter prior to Goncalves against Bacsinszky. The potentially decisive doubles match sees Brazilians Pereira and Goncalves set to face the Swiss Viktorija Golubic and Amra Sadikovic.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Teliana Pereira (BRA) v Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)
R2: Paula Cristina Goncalves (BRA) v Belinda Bencic (SUI)
R3: Teliana Pereira (BRA) v Belinda Bencic (SUI)
R4: Paula Cristina Goncalves (BRA) v Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)
R5: Paula Cristina Goncalves/Teliana Pereira (BRA) v Viktoria Golubic/Amra Sadikovic (SUI)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Belinda Bencic (SUI) - 18/04/2014
Captain Heinz Guendhardt (SUI) - 18/04/2014
Paula Goncalves (BRA) - 18/04/2014
Teliana Pereira (BRA) - 18/04/2014