Date/Time: Thursday 14th March 2019 (Kick-off 7:00 PM CET).
In the last couple of years we have had some new names winning Grand Slam titles on the WTA side of things including fresh, young faces kicking on overall on the Tour. The main name that stands out is Naomi Osaka, but Belinda Bencic may feel that only injuries have held her back from moving to the top of the women's game herself.
Back injuries and other physical ailments have prevented Bencic from building on entering the top 10 of the World Ranking as an 18 year old, but 2019 has begun in a manner much more to what is expected of the now 22 year old 'Swiss Miss'
While the World Ranking says Bencic is not a top 20 player, her performances over the last month are propelling her up the standings at a rate of knots. Continue in this vain and she is going to crack her career best World Number 7 Ranking before too long and Bencic has been winning matches against some of the best players on the Tour.
Bencic won the title in Dubai and showed her resilience in beating four consecutive top 10 Ranked opponents to earn the title. Any drop off in Indian Wells has not been witnessed as Bencic cruised through the first couple of matches here and then crushed World Number 1 Naomi Osaka in the Fourth Round to reach the Quarter Final.
In the last month Bencic has beaten the World Numbers 1, 2, 4, 6 and 9 and on Thursday she takes on World Number 5 Karolina Pliskova who is enjoying a bounce back year on the hard courts. The Czech player has a title from the first week of the 2019 Tour and has reached the Semi Final at the Australian Open and her play has been steady so far this week to come through the draw.
The first serve has proven to be a huge weapon for Pliskova as expected, but she is also returning a little above her numbers for the 2019 in general. However it is the second serve that is likely to be attacked by Bencic who is not moving behind the baseline, but standing firm and competing with some of the biggest hitters on the WTA Tour.
Like Pliskova, Bencic is relying on strong numbers on the first serve to protect what has been a vulnerable second serve. She is returning even better than Pliskova though and I do think Bencic's ability to make enough balls back in play and counter attack with some strong groundstrokes is going to give her the slight edge in this first meeting between these two players.
The Swiss superstar is 11-0 since the beginning of February and her numbers have been strong. While she may need three sets to edge out Pliskova, Bencic can do enough to win this match.
I won't ask her to cover the small number because it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the set Pliskova wins is enough to get within the number with Bencic winning two tight sets. Belinda Bencic has beaten five of the current top 10 in the last month, but she would have only covered the 1.5 handicap set for this match on two occasions and so I will just look for the talented player to find a way to win this match however she can do it.
Prediction: Belinda Bencic