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May 28, 2017

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'New Swiss Miss' Bencic gets praise from world's 4th best

MELBOURNE -- Chinese world number four Li Na Wednesday said she sees a lot of Martina Hingis in exciting "new Swiss Miss" Belinda Bencic, and tipped her for a big future.

Li had to draw on all her experience to get past the 16-year-old qualifier in the Australian Open second round, with Bencic overcoming nerves to pose problems in a hard-fought second set.

Two-time finalist Li prevailed 6-0, 7-6 (7/5) and was full of praise for a player who won the Wimbledon and French Open junior titles last year and was named the ITF Junior World Champion.

"She played exactly like Martina Hingis, I feel," said Li.

This comes as no surprise with Bencic joining the tennis school of Hingis's mother Melanie Molitor, who still occasionally coaches the teen, at age four.

Bencic has also been getting tips from Hingis herself, with the original "Swiss Miss" back in Melbourne this year as the coach of Sabine Lisicki.

Ahead of the tournament, Hingis played Bencic at an exhibition in Hobart dubbed "Master versus the Apprentice."

Hingis, who was 16 when she won her first Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 1997, prevailed in three sets.

"She won the juniors, so she has experience, she's used to playing on the big courts," said Li. "If she plays more tournaments on the tour, for sure she will be very good.

"I didn't like the way she was hitting the ball today because she was using a lot of my power to move me and running a lot on the court."

Bencic, who said she hears the Hingis comparisons "a lot," promised to learn from the Melbourne experience.

"It's great that I had this experience at 16, so maybe later or the next match I can show what I learned from this experience so I will not be so nervous and I will not miss chances," she said.

"I was always watching her (Li) on TV, and now to play against her it's an awesome feeling."

Bencic is among a crop of new young players emerging on the women's tour who appear to have the game to make it on the grueling WTA tour.

Li beat another 16-year-old junior champion, Croat Ana Konjuh, in the first round and said her game was different to Bencic.

"Totally different. The first one (Konjuh) was hitting more aggressive. Today's was more control," she said, refusing to reveal who was better.

"Don't try to ask that, okay? Both players are pretty good."

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