Peak Satisfaction Adds Up For Norrie At Indian Wells

Cameron Norrie (photo: ATP Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, October 15, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As the top half of the men’s singles draw took Stadium 1 court for their quarterfinal-round matches on a sunny Thursday afternoon at the BNP Paribas Open in the outhern California palm desert, No. 11 seed Diego Schwartzman faced No. 21 seed Cameron Norrie in the first match, followed by No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz against No. 23 seed Grigor Dimitrov.

While Hurkacz seemed the veteran of the quartet, appearing in his second Indian Wells quarterfinal, it was a first-time experience for the other three players. One of them in particular, Norrie, made the most of his new-found opportunity.

In the opener, Great Britain’s Norrie came in with a 2-1 head-to-head advantage against Schwartzman, in search of his third victory against the Argentine. It was also Norrie’s 10th quarterfinal of the season to six for Schwartzman. The 26th-ranked Briton started with a bang as he won 12 of the first 14 points of the match, won 89 percent of his first-serve points, and went on to win a 6-0 bagel set in 31 minutes. Norrie dominated Schwartzman in total points, 27-11.

Then, in the second set, the 26-year-old Norrie kept the pressure on the World No. 15 Schwartzman and by the end of the one-hour and 13-minute match, he had won 6-0, 6-2, to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal. The victory kept Norrie’s hopes alive in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin. He’s currently in 13th place, just 945 points behind the ninth-place Hurkacz.

Norrie hit an economical 12 winners – nine from his forehand – and made just 10 unforced errors, while Schwartzman could muster just 10 winners and committed a hefty 30 unforced errors. Norrie outpointed Schwartzman 58-30. It all added up to his 45th tour-level victory of the season as he remains in the chase for his second ATP Tour title of his career to go with the one he won in Los Cabos.

“Great tennis from this Brit by way of New Zealand and TCU,” Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier said afterward of Norrie, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, grew up in New Zealand, and emigrated to Great Britain as a teenager. He played collegiately in the United States at Texas Christian University before turning pro. “Impeccable performance for Norrie and what a California swing he’s enjoying.”

Norrie was a finalist at the San Diego Open before coming to sow his fortune of good luck in Indian Wells.

“For Norrie, this is peak satisfaction,” Courier added. “He has been a workhorse and he’s seeing the fruits of his own labor. … He’s among the best of tour fitness-wise.”

During a court side TV interview afterward, Norrie, who will debut next week as the new British men’s No. 1, replacing Dan Evans, reflected upon his wonderful day. “I think everything went my way today,” he said, cracking a smile. “Right from from the beginning, I was timing the ball well. I thought I was going to be in for a long match because the previous matches we had played had been so long and so physical. So I was ready for that.

“I was able to execute and hit a lot of lines in the first set and stayed tough in the second, and served well when I needed to. I’m so happy to be through. It’s such a big win for me, especially to beat Diego. It’s not easy, I fought hard. I think I was more fortunate today.”

Grigor the Great: Dimitrov wins another thriller

In the next match, with the steady-hitting Hurkacz of Poland and Bulgaria’s giant-slayer Dimitrov meeting for the first time – for one set it looked like it would be the 24-year-old Hurkacz’s moment to savor. After all, he was a three-time winner on the ATP Tour this season and had gone 6-0 in sets won through his first three matches.

Meanwhile, Dimitrov, 30, was trying to reach his second straight semifinal following his recent run at the San Diego Open. The Bulgarian was also going after his 100th ATP Masters 1000 victory Thursday against Hurkacz, a day after winning No. 99 in a memorable three-set comeback victory over top seed Daniil Medvedev. At the end of their two-hour and 37-minute tussle, it would be Dimitrov celebrating and not Hurkacz. He backed up his upset of the World No. 2 Medvedev, coming from behind to win 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2).

Just how did Dimitrov pull a victory out of what seemed like it was going to be a sure loss?

“Honestly, I stayed in it. Especially after the first set. It was hard to find my range,” Dimitrov admitted during a TV interview after the match. “Of course, I was tired from yesterday. I didn’t feel like I had enough time to really rest and push. You know, I still knew and felt I had something left in me.”

At the outset, Hurkacz fought through a nine-minute 14-point return game to garner his first break on his third try to go ahead 5-3, then consolidated it in the next game to win the opening set in 37 minutes. The Polish No. 1 hit five aces and 11 winners and won all but one point on his first serve. However, Dimitrov reset and fought back in the 49-minute second set to win 6-4 with a service break in the 10th game – a dribbler over the net cord that capped a 26-shot rally for his 14th winner of the set. It was on to a decider for these two.

“As soon as the second set ended, I knew I had to step up a little bit more and become more aggressive,” Dimitrov said. “I kept on believing and I think that made a difference.”

Dimitrov carried the momentum and energy he gained from the second set into the third and broke Hurkacz to go ahead 4-2. He consolidated the break to push further ahead at 5-2. However, Hurkacz came back to level the set with a pair of holds that bookended a break of Dimitrov in the ninth game. Soon, it was on to a tie-break. On paper, it should have favored Hurkacz, who was 17-10 as opposed to Dimitrov’s 4-10. However, for the second time this season, Dimitrov came back to win after losing the first set and now he’s into the semifinals against Norrie.

“Even in the third set, when I was up, I felt like the match wasn’t over,” Dimitrov confessed. “I knew he was going to fight and come back and play good tennis. I couldn’t finish the way I really wanted to, but I stayed in. That was the biggest difference.”

Dimitrov finished with 26 winners – 24 of them from the forehand side – and won 17 of 22 net-point opportunities. Hurkacz hit 14 aces and 31 winners overall but committed 46 unforced errors. Hurkacz outpointed Dimitrov 101-100.

“I am definitely not surprised to see Cameron Norrie in the semifinals,” Dimitrov added. “He has been playing great, very good matches. He is a very dangerous opponent and very crafty. It is not going to be an easy match my end.”

Making history: By reaching semifinals, Jabeur guarantees Top 10 debut

The women’s top half of the draw  took Stadium 1 during Thursday’s evening session for their quarterfinal matches. The first one featured two of hottest players on the WTA tour, No. 12 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and No. 18 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. While Jabeur prevailed when the two Top 20 players faced each other at the Western & Southern Open in August, since then, Kontaveit won 16 of her next 17 matches and captured two titles – at Cleveland and Ostrava. Meanwhile, the 14th-ranked Jabeur found herself a win away from guaranteeing herself a Top 10 debut next week. She was already at the top of the WTA leaderboard with 47 main-draw wins this season.

In an hour and 26 minutes, Jabeur beat Kontaveit, 7-5, 6-3, to earn win No. 48 and reach her first WTA 1000 semifinal. The Tunisian strung together 15 winners against 15 unforced errors, while Kontaveit finished with 18 winner but committed a costly 38 unforced errors. Jabeur converted five of 12 break-point opportunities and outpointed Kontaveit 75-62. It was her eighth victory in her last nine matches and she’s 14-5 on hard courts since Wimbledon. The loss ended Kontaveit’s nine-match winning streak.

After becoming the first Arab woman to win a WTA single as title at Birmingham over the summer, she’s also the first Arab – man or woman – to attain a Top 10 world ranking.

During her post-match news conference, Jabeur called her win “a great match, great fight.

“Always tough to play against Anett. I tried to play my game little bit, but she knows me so well. It was kind of tough to kind of execute those dropshots,” she said, quoted by the WTA website.

“I’m pretty glad that I stayed calm when I needed to be. It was very stressful at the end. But I’m glad that I got the win and looking forward to play. Why not get the title here?”

Badosa defeats Kerber, reaches fifth WTA semifinal this season

With a tough act to follow, the last singles quarterfinal of the day showcased No. 10 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, the highest remaining women’s seed, against Spanish 21st seed Paula Badosa. While Kerber was appearing at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the 11th time in her career – and was a 2019 finalist – the 27th-ranked Badosa was the only first-timer among the 96 women who started in the main draw to reach the quarterfinals.

On Tuesday, Badosa upset No. 3 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic for her fourth Top-10 win of the season. Against Kerber, she was bidding to become the first woman from Spain to reach the semifinals at Indian Wells since 2003 – and she did it.

Badosa cruised past the World No. 15 Kerber 6-4, 7-5, winning on her third match point, in an hour and 26 minutes to set up a Friday night semifinal against Jabeur. Each will be vying for their first WTA 1000 final. The Spaniard outpointed Kerber 68-60 to reach her second WTA 1000 semifinal this season and fifth semifinal overall.

Thursday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Friday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

Around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden

Wimbledon champions Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Elise Mertens from Belgium advanced to the Indian Wells doubles final with a 6-2, 6-0 win over No. 3 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, both of Japan. The No. 1 seeds needed just 54 minutes to win their semifinal-round match.

While each has been to the Indian Wells doubles title match with different partners, this is their first one together. Mertens won last year’s title with Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, while Hsieh won the 2014 title with Peng Shuai of China and in 2018 with Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.

“We’re very happy about the performance. Just everything clicked today,” Mertens said after the victory, quoted by the WTA website after the match. “[Winning Indian Wells together] would mean a lot. It’s one of the biggest tournaments in the tennis world, so we’re just trying to enjoy the moment and play with my partner and friend.”

In Saturday’s final, Hsieh and Mertens will play unseeded Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who defeated Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 15 minutes.

Passing shots

According to Mike Dickson of London’s Daily Mail newspaper, US Open champion Emma Raducanu has pulled out of next week’s VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow. While her post-US Open has been a period of trial and error – as reflected by her use of several temporary coaches – the World No. 22 lost her first match at Indian Wells last Friday to No. 100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in straight sets that broke a 10-match winning streak set in New York. By not going to play in Moscow, Raducanu (in 15th place with 2,282 points) has now been mathematically eliminated from qualifying for the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her last tournament of the year will be the Upper Austria Ladies Linz Nov. 6-12.

Thanks for the memories, Alex

By the numbers

Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko is into her first WTA 1000 semifinal since 2018 at Miami. She fired 51 winners in her comeback 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Shelby Rogers. Ostapenko rallied from 1-3, love-40 down to win the final five games of match Wednesday evening.

“Quotable …”

“Top 10 I know is the beginning. I know I deserve this place from a long time since I was playing well. But I want to prove that I deserve to be here, I deserve to be one of the Top 10 players. 

“There is a lot of things that I need to improve. I’m very happy, a lot of emotions right now, but I’m still in competition so I’m trying to calm down and not overthink about Top 10. Probably will celebrate after the tournament. I just believed in myself, I worked hard, and this is just the beginning of great things.”

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia ranked World No. 14 and seeded 12th, on the significance of reaching the Top 10 and becoming the first Arab – man or woman – to achieve this plateau.

“I have been pretty consistent this year. I think I am really dong the fundamentals well on a serve and return and playing the big points better. I have been a little more aggressive and feel I am learning more as I go along and becoming more experienced. We are really happy.”

Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, ranked World No. 26 and seeded 21st, following his 45th victory of the season Thursday.

• “I know there are a lot of seeds which play great tennis. My biggest priority is to play my best against any player regardless of the ranking or status. This week has been a difficult journey with lots of battles, two three-setters so far. So, this is something I’m going to take as a learning experience and use it for something better in the tournament.”

– Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, ranked World No. 3 and seeded second, following his fourth-round, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over No. 22 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia on Wednesday.