Halep Wins All-Romanian Tussle To Reach Indian Wells Quarterfinals

Simona Halep (photo: WTA Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 16, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

As the entire women’s fourth round took place at the BNP Paribas Open Tuesday, at the start of the day, Iga Swiatek (World No. 4), Maria Sakkari (No. 6) and Paula Badosa (No. 7) were the only Top 10 players still alive and in contention for the Indian Wells title. But waiting in the wings was a former Top 10 player, Simona Halep, who has put together a pretty nice run of her own in the Southern California palm desert.

Confidence has been a key ingredient for those who have made it to the elite eight of this WTA 1000 tournament.

“I’m just more calm and more confident,” Swiatek said after beating No. 16 seed Coco Gauff Sunday evening, when asked to describe what she attributes her early-season success that includes winning another 1000-level hard-court event in Doha before coming to Indian Wells. “Confidence is a key as well, but you also have to believe with some experience, you know. So, yeah, I feel like it’s clicking right now.”

Sakkari was asked about being recognized as being one of the WTA Top 10. “Just being in that group of people,” she said, “it makes me very proud that I can actually tell myself that you’re one of them.”

As Badosa suggested earlier this week, “Confidence is very tough to get and very easy to lose it. For me, it’s very important to go match by match. For me, every match gives me confidence again.”

As it happened, each of the Top 10 players plus Halep were successful and won their matches to advance to the quarterfinal round.

Halep first to reach women’s elite eight

Day Seven began with an all-Romanian tussle on Stadium 1 featuring former World No. 1 Simona Halep, now ranked 26th and seeded 24th, against No. 26 seed Sorana Cirstea, the last Romanian to beat Halep. It was their first meeting in 11 years. The winner of the match would become the top-ranked Romanian woman.

The 30-year-old Halep, a two-time major champion who came in having won her past 18 matches against fellow Romanians, made it 19. Her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Cirstea, 31, was achieved in an economical one hour and 22 minutes and it placed Halep into the quarterfinal round. The straight-set victory was her 12th this season – most on Tour.

The 2015 Indian Wells titlist has now reached the final eight in the Southern California palm desert five times. She hit 12 winners, broke Cirstea five times and outpointed her opponent 68-48 en route to her 27th career Indian Wells triumph and third this week following earlier victories over Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia and American Coco Gauff.

“I really enjoy playing here, it’s like home,” Halep said during her on-court interview. “Every time, I try to play my best tennis here because I like the conditions. Definitely, today was not an easy match. It’s always tough to play against a Romanian, but I tried to treat this match like a normal match. So, I did that pretty well.

“Even if I was broken in the second set, I felt like my return is pretty strong,” Halep added. “I was confident until the end of the match, and that’s why I could finish in two sets.”

Next, Halep will face No. 79 Petra Martic of Croatia, whom she has beaten twice in three career meetings. Martic defeated No. 28 seed Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 7-6 (6), 6-4, in an hour and 53 minutes to reach her first quarterfinal of 2022 and second at Indian Wells. She won 80 percent (28 of 35) of her first-serve points, faced just two break points, and outpointed Samsonova 79-65.

“I feel a little bit empty right now to be honest,” Martic said in press. “It’s been awhile since I played on a high level and went deep into a tournament. So, emotionally, I feel a little bit drained at the moment. I just want to try to recover and prepare as well as I can for the quarterfinals.”

Swiatek makes another third-set comeback

No. 3 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, the highest-remaining seed in the women’s draw, showed plenty of mental fortitude as she rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 16 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany in two hours and eight minutes on Stadium 1. It was the third straight match that Swiatek has found herself a set down and for the third time made a successful comeback. The victory extended the 20-year-old Polish star’s winning streak to eight.

Swiatek overcame 40 unforced errors with 36 winners and eight breaks of Kerber’s serve. She outpointed Kerber, who was a 2019 Indian Wells finalist, 97-76.

“I’m glad I was able to come back. Playing against Angie is such a great experience,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview. “It’s an honor to play against her.”

Asked to describe what was the key to beating Kerber, Swiatek said: “I have no idea, honestly. I didn’t know whether to attack or hold the ball and be patient. It was tricky because sometimes she was just giving it back. If I wanted to attack, I had more risk of making a mistake. I think in important moments, I was patient.”

Next, Swiatek will play No. 25 seed Madison Keys of the United States. The last American in the singles field, Keys reached the Indian Wells quarterfinals for the first time by defeating 122nd-ranked qualifier Harriet Dart of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-4, in 68 minutes on Stadium 3. She hit 18 winners, saved the only break point she faced, broke Dart three times and outpointed her 65-39. The loss ended an enjoyable run by Dart, which should lift her into the Top 100 next week.

Sakkari advances by retirement

Meanwhile, No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece advanced to the quarterfinal round after her opponent, 409th-ranked Australian qualifier Daria Saville, was forced to withdraw after five games due to a left thigh injury.

Sakkari led 4-1 in the opening set when Saville took an off-court medical time out for treatment of her left thigh. When Saville returned to the Stadium 2, she walked over and shook hands with Sakkari and informed the chair umpire of her decision.

Next, Sakkari will play No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who beat No. 31 seed Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, 7-6 (5), 6-2, closing out the victory with her fifth ace on match point. She outpointed Golubic 70-53 during the 94-minute match on Stadium 3.

Badosa continues her title defense with another win

Defending champion and fifth seed Paula Badosa of Spain won her ninth straight Indian Wells match going back to last year’s title run with her 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 18 seed Leylah Fernandez of Canada. Badosa became first woman to win the Indian Wells title and reach the quarterfinals the following year since Simona Halep in 2015-2016.

Badosa, who came in as the favorite, battled through some tough service games but maintained the upper hand throughout much of the one-hour and 42-minute fourth-round match with Fernandez on Stadium 1. She hit 23 winners to 28 unforced errors, won 79 percent (37 of 47) of her first-serve points, converted three of 12 break-point chances and outscored Fernandez 80-67. The 19-year-old Canadian was hampered by 37 unforced errors and broke Badosa just once in six tries. The loss snapped Fernandez’s seven-match winning streak going back to her recent title run in Monterrey, Mexico.

“Can we make every week a tournament here?” Badosa asked during her on-court interview. “I vote for it.

“It’s amazing to be back here. I feel very well playing here. Today was very tough. Leylah, she’s an amazing player, very fast, very good timing. I knew I had to fight and serve very well. I think I did that the entire match and I got the win and I’m happy to be in the quarterfinals, again.”

Next, Badosa will face No. 21 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who battled past No. 30 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Berrettini into Indian Wells fourth round for first time

No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy rallied from down 2-5 in the second set, saved three set points, and went on to beat No. 30 seed Lloyd Harris of South Africa, 6-4, 7-5, to reach the fourth round at Indian Wells for the first time. He’s the highest remaining seed in the lower half of the draw.

“It means a lot [to reach the fourth round],” said Berrettini, who hit 12 aces and and broke Harris three times during the hour-and-a-half match on Stadium 2. It was Berrettini’s second victory over Harris in two career meetings. “I like the conditions but for some reason, I have never been able to play my best tennis here. I am happy with my performance. Lloyd is a tough opponent. It feels really nice to reach the fourth round for the first time. Every year I am improving.”

Next, Berrettini will oppose No. 61 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, who eliminated No. 47 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 7-6 (3), 7-5, by hitting 23 winners and outpointing him 83-63. Kecmanovic was a 2019 Indian Wells quarterfinalist as a lucky loser.

Fritz, Isner continue American resurgence

No. 20 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States became the fourth American to reach the fourth round, joining Reilly Opelka, Jenson Brooksby and John Isner. His 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (2) victory over 99th-ranked Spanish qualifier Jaume Munar lasted two hours and 48 minutes and kept his hopes alive to equal or surpass his semifinal run at last year’s Indian Wells event. He’s now won six of his last seven matches at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Fritz hit 11 aces and won 70 percent (54 of 77) of his first-serve points against Munar, who countered with seven aces of his own and won 77 percent (49 of 64) of his first-serve points. Total points were even at 106.

Next, Fritz will face No. 29 seed Alex de Minaur who reached the Indian Wells quarterfinals for the second straight year. Tuesday afternoon on Stadium 3, de Minaur beat American Tommy Paul, 7-6 (2), 6-4, in an hour and 49 minutes in back of 22 winners. He outpointed the 39th-ranked Paul 82-73 in their first career meeting. Two days earlier, Paul knocked No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev out of the tournament.

“Look, I’m not going to lie,” de Minaur said in his on-court interview. “I’d much rather a 6-0, 6-0 [win] in 40 minutes, but it’s the art of the game. It’s another day, it’s another round I’m alive for. Happy to be in another fourth round, hopefully we can go a little bit further this time.”

De Minaur has reached the Indian Wells round of 16 for the second straight year and owns a 3-1 lifetime win-loss record against Fritz.

Meanwhile, the No. 23 seed Isner, who at 36 is the dean of the American men competing at Indian Wells, improved to 26-12 in the Southern California palm desert following his 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. He hit 13 aces and lost only nine points on his serve.

During a recent interview with the BNP Paribas Open website, Isner said: “To try to keep up with these young guys, and I still want to beat them, I still want to be ranked ahead of them. I know it’s a really tough path, it’s encouraging to see that we have so many players coming up. For me to still be playing well, at my age – almost 37 – is very cool. Hopefully, it can be inspiring for these guys coming up.”

Next, Isner will play No. 33 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who hit 13 aces and outpointed No. 31 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 58-46 during his 6-3, 6-4 win that lasted 69 minutes.

Hurkacz reaches fourth round for third straight year

Finally, No. 11 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland fired 13 aces and saved a couple of set points during his 7-6 (7), 6-3 win over 115th-ranked American wild card Steve Johnson to reach the fourth round for the third straight year.

Next, Hurkacz will face No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who defeated No. 28 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, 6-3, 6-4. Rublev hit 21 winners and moved to 16-2 this season.

“To play Frances is never easy and I’m happy to be through today and through to the fourth round for the first time in Indian Wells,” Rublev said after his win. “We’ll see what’s going to happen. Now [there’s] no pressure, I’ve done better than ever here, so now I just need to try to relax and play tennis.”

Tuesday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Wednesday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

Gaël Monfils: ‘I’m a support for my wife’

Gaël Monfils doesn’t consider himself very political in general, he’ll admit. “I’m a support for my wife. A sad thing has come to her country,” he said Monday after pulling off a three-set upset of World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev that will knock him from the top ranking next week.

The World No. 28 Monfils from France is married to Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s biggest star player, and she was in the Frenchman’s players box for his match against Medvedev.

After the 26th-seeded Monfils’ victory, which advanced him to Wednesday’s fourth round against No. 19 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, the subject of the 35-year-old Monfils’ attachment to Ukraine through his marriage to Svitolina was addressed at his post-match news conference.

“I try to do the maximum to support her in whatever she chooses to do,” Monfils admitted, “but today we were here for playing. I’m simply happy to have won my match.”

Monfils spoke about the difficulty in seeing the distress that Svitolina’s family has been going through. “It’s not easy to see my wife a couple weeks ago crying every night,” he said. “Still quite a lot of family still there. It’s tough [to] describe because I’m in it. And it’s just kind of crazy when you think about it, but we try to manage it the best way we can.

“And definitely for myself, you know, I try to be the shoulder, to be everything that she can lean on, and definitely to my second family … I do anything for them to make them happy, safe, and everything that I can do.”

Daniil Medvedev on losing No. 1 ranking: ‘Definitely not pressure’

During his post-match press conference Monday, current World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, who will lose the top ranking when the ATP Rankings are updated next Monday, said he didn’t feel the pressure of the ranking when he faced Gaël Monfils and lost.

“Definitely not pressure,” he said. “I thought it could give me more motivation. Well, I had motivation. It’s just that, yeah, as I say, I didn’t find my best tennis.

“Well, now I know I’m going to lose it (No. 1 ranking). So, I have Miami to try to get it back. Usually, feeling a little bit better in Miami in terms of tennis. So, we’ll try to play good there. You know, I always say, ‘when I play my best tennis, my good tennis, it’s really tough to beat me.’ But that’s the toughest part of tennis is to reproduce it time after time. That’s where the Big Three (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic) are just unreal because no matter which conditions, no matter which surface, they are always winning tournaments a lot of the time or winning some crazy matches. Yeah, I’m going to need to try to do better.”

By the numbers

Simona Halep has been the top-ranked Romanian woman since August 26, 2013, a span of 447 consecutive weeks, which includes the two weeks of this year’s Indian Wells event.

“Quotable …”

“When we do practice together, we always have fun. She’s a great person. It’s great to have a player like her on tour because not only is she nice off court but she’s also a great player on court. I can’t wait to share the court with her playing a good match.”

Leylah Fernandez of Canada, on defending Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa of Spain.

“I feel sorry for her. … Even if is terrible to hear from that, we need to be prepared for that, no? We need to resist these kind of issues that can happen when you are exposed to the people, no?

“At the same time, as we like a lot when the people are supporting, when sometime like this happens, we need to accept and move forward, no? … We need to be ready for adversities.

“… The only thing that I wish her is recover well from that and wish all the very best.”

Rafael Nadal of Spain, speaking out on Naomi Osaka following his Monday match.