Swiatek Extends Winning Streak To Seven At Indian Wells

Iga Swiatek (photo: WTA Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 14, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

A day after Rafael Nadal pulled off a great comeback victory at the BNP Paribas Open, Iga Swiatek garnered her own comeback victory Sunday afternoon on the same Stadium 1 court as her idol.

After the No. 3 seed Swiatek’s 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 29 Clara Tauson of Denmark, the self-professed Rafa superfan said in her on-court interview : “It inspired me a lot. I was thinking that if he could win against a guy who was serving that fast, and break him in the last few games, anything is possible. …

“I’m believing in myself and trying to do as he does,” the 20-year-old World No. 4 from Poland added.

Swiatek’s victory on Sunday extended her winning streak to seven, which goes back to her recent WTA 1000 title victory in Doha. Although it took two hours and 18 minutes to secure Sunday’s win over Tauson, she did so with five aces and a winning percentage of 70 percent (38 of 54) on her first-serve points. Swiatek broke Tauson’s serve six times and outpointed her opponent 101-81 to advance to the round of 16 for the second straight year against No. 15 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, who beat No. 23 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-2, 6-1.

“I’m getting pretty experienced at winning matches from one set down, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Swiatek said. “In previous years, I would struggle with confidence after losing the first set, but right now I’m just focusing on finding solutions.”

One who didn’t find the right solution was No. 11 seed Emma Raducanu of Great Britain. After winning the first set against Petra Martic of Croatia, the reigning US Open champion wasn’t able to hold on and lost 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5. Her serve was broken eight times by the 79th-ranked Croatian. It was Martic’s first win against a Top-20 opponent after eight-straight losses.

The win advanced Martic into the round of 16 against No. 28 seed Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, who beat No. 71 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Among those advancing to the fourth round was No. 25 seed Madison Keys of the United States. In an all-American tussle with No. 53 Alison Riske, it was Keys who prevailed 7-6 (4), 6-1 for her 13th match win of the season. It equals her best finish in the Southern California palm desert, in which she reached the fourth round in 2017. Next, Keys will play 122nd-ranked qualifier Harriet Dart of Great Britain, who shut down No. 63 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Also, No. 26 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania moved into the round of 16 for the first time at Indian Wells with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 win over 90th-ranked lucky loser Anna Kalinskaya of Russia. She broke her opponent seven times in 20 tries and saved 10 of 13 break-point chances.

Next, Cirstea will oppose fellow Romanian and No. 24 seed Simona Halep, who spoiled the 18th birthday of No 16 seed Coco Gauff of the United States. Halep advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win in 86 minutes, in which she hit 11 winners and took advantage of 33 unforced errors by Gauff.

Berrettini advances, Auger-Aliassime upset

No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy went the distance to pull out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory over 86th-ranked NextGen rising star Holger Rune of Denmark in their first meeting. The Australian Open semifinalist Berrettini had never advanced beyond the third round in three previous Indian Wells appearances, while Rune earned his first ATP Masters 1000 main draw in two days earlier in beating Ugo Humbert in the first round.

“It was definitely a tough match – I expected it,” Berrettini said during an on-court interview. “He’s improving every time I see him. He’s going to have a bright future.

Berrettini set up match point with his 13th ace and won the two-hour match with a service winner. Points were even at 85 each and Berrettini finished with 27 winners to 21 unforced errors and Rune recorded 23 winners and hit 17 unforced errors.

“Today I think I was able to manage the strokes,” Berrettini added. “I’m really happy, because I wasn’t feeling that comfortable in the court.”

Next, Berrettini will play No. 30 seed Lloyd Harris of South Africa, who defeated No. 82 Facundo Bagnis of Argentina, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

While Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal is off to a 16-0 start to the 2022 season, No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia has put together a solid 10-match winning streak of his own after beating No. 51 Dominik Koepfer of Germany, 7-5, 6-4.

The 24-year-old Rublev hit 32 winners, won 11 of 15 points at the net and improved to 15-2, which includes two titles won at Dubai and Marseille.

Next, Rublev will face No. 28 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, who defeated fellow American Brandon Nakashima 6-4, 6-4.

Meanwhile, No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada fell victim to Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 6-3. Although the 47th-ranked Dutchman squandered three match points at 6-5 in the second set, he found a way to pull out the three-hour and 16-minute match to advance to the third round.

“Of course you’re a little bit frustrated if you have match points in the second set,” van de Zandschulp said in press. “It’s not like I missed any shots, but he played some great points. It’s a little bit easier than when you are missing chances. I thought I was playing well and that’s how I continued in third.”

After winning his first ATP Tour title in Rotterdam, the loss drop Auger-Aliassime’s win-loss record to 15-5.

Next, van de Zandschulp will face No. 61 Miomir Kechmanovic of Serbia, who eliminated No. 24 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 7-6 (6), after saving two match points.

Other second-round winners moving into the third round include: No. 11 seed Hubert Hurkacz, No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman, No. 20 seed Taylor Fritz, No. 23 seed John Isner, No. 29 seed Alex de Minaur, No. 31 seed Alexander Bublik and wild card Steve Johnson.

Osaka driven to tears by heckler at Indian Wells

After former World No. 1 Naomi Osaka was rattled by a heckler during her second-round match on Stadium 1 Saturday night, she tearfully – and emotionally – addressed fans from the court following her 6-0, 6-4 loss to No. 21 seed Veronika Kudermetova.

The incident began after 78th-ranked Osaka lost the first game to Kudermetova. Following the changeover, an unidentified fan yelled out, “Naomi, you suck!” Thanks to court microphones, the TV broadcasts clearly picked up the uncommon breach of tennis decorum. It struck a nerve with the four-time major champion Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese and who represents Japan in international competitions.

As she fought to compose herself, Osaka eventually asked chair umpire Paula Vieira Souza: “Can I borrow your microphone? … I just want to say something. I’m not going to curse. I don’t curse. It’s just weighing on my heart.”

The request was denied and Osaka was visited on court by WTA Tour supervisor Claire Wood to discuss the incident. Soon after, Osaka continued playing but the damage had been done. After the one-hour and 21-minute match ended, Osaka remained on court and eventually gave an on-court interview that followed Kudermetova’s. She did not meet with press afterward.

As Osaka wiped away tears, she said: “I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera.

“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, and it didn’t really bother me,” Osaka said. “But, like, heckled here? I watched a video of Venus and Serena getting heckled here, and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it.

“And I don’t know why, but it went into my head, and it got replayed a lot. I just wanted to say thank you and congratulations [to her opponent.] Thank you.”

Osaka picked up her equipment bag, slung it over her shoulder, and walked off the court. Before she did, she explained in her on-court interview that after the heckle, it made her flash back to footage she had seen of Venus and Serena Williams being booed at during an Indian Wells tournament in 2001.

After the match, Kudermetova said in press, “I didn’t hear what the lady say because I really so focus on my game, on my service game. I didn’t understand what she said, but after that moment, I saw that Naomi, she start to cry.”

The 24-year-old Osaka has struggled with her mental health over the past year. She’s been outspoken about dealing with the mental pressure athletes face since she withdrew from last May’s French Open, citing her mental well-being, in a written announcement that surfaced amid a dispute about participating in mandatory post-match press conferences.

The Japanese superstar went on to miss Wimbledon before returning to represent Japan in the Olympics – losing in the third round – then walking away from tennis for three months after a third-round loss to Leylah Fernandez at the US Open.

Earlier this year, Osaka resurfaced in time for the Australian Open in January and seemed refreshed, both mentally and physically, and showed a good rapport with reporters in her press conferences. This year’s BNP Paribas Open represented only Osaka’s third tournament in six months.

After winning the 2018 BNP Paribas Open, Osaka went on to win four Grand Slam titles, most recently at the 2021 Australian Open. Since then, her tournament appearances have been infrequent and she’s not won another tournament or reached another final since Melbourne at the beginning of last year.

Former World No. 1 Andy Murray was asked about Osaka following his second-round loss Sunday afternoon against Alexander Bublik. He said: “Obviously, I feel for Naomi, that obviously upset her a lot … but yeah, it’s always been something that’s been part of sport. So, you know, you have to, I guess, be prepared for that in some ways and be able to tolerate it because it does happen regularly across all sports.”

Hall of Famer Pam Shriver, now a tennis commentator and analyst for Tennis Channel, which broadcast Osaka’s match in North America, said: “I just hope it doesn’t set her back into not wanting to play again.”

While Saturday’s latest vulnerable moment by Osaka was ripe for discussion, there was at least one empathetic voice who stood up for her. Andrew Krasny, who conducted the on-court interviews with both Kudermetova and Osaka, said: “Out of about 10,000 people, one person’s voice can’t weight out 9,999 others. We love you here.”

Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Monday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

By the numbers

• Iga Swiatek, who extended her winning streak to seven straight, is one of six players with a chance at overtaking Barbora Krejcikova for women’s World No. 2.

• Coming into Indian Wells, Madison Keys led the WTA in service aces with 97. She hit three in her opening-round win over Misaki Doi and added three more against Alison Riske on Sunday.

• With his win over Sam Querrey, John Isner now has an 11-3 record in second-round matches at Indian Wells.

“Quotable …”

“Every match gives you a lot of confidence. Confidence is very tough to get and very easy to lose it. To be honest, after Dubai and Doha, I wasn’t happy about that. I had tough days after all. For me, it’s very important to go match by match. For me, every match gives me confidence again.”

Paula Badosa of Spain, women’s defending champion, on how winning helps her confidence going forward in a tournament.