Tenth Straight Win Elevates Swiatek Into Indian Wells Final

Iga Swiatek (photo: WTA Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 19, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 4 Iga Swiatek of Poland is undefeated this year at WTA 1000 events. So, it shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that her latest victory, a straight-set semifinal triumph over Romania’s Simona Halep at the BNP Paribas Open Friday, has put her in contention to win a second consecutive WTA 1000 title.

What is surprising is whom she will face in Sunday afternoon’s final: Maria Sakkari. The No. 6 seed from Greece ended the title defense of Spain’s Paula Badosa late Friday night, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. The victory advanced the World No. 6 Sakkari into the biggest final of her career.

When the No. 3 seed Swiatek faces Sakkari on Stadium 1, the No. 2 ranking in the WTA Rankings, currently held by the Czcch Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova, will be up for grabs.

The 20-year-old Swiatek began the evening with an emphatic 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory over No. 24 seed Halep, who won the Indian Wells title in 2015 and was appearing in her fourth semifinal in the Southern California desert. The tussle produced the Polish star’s 10th straight victory and her WTA-leading 18th of the season. She arrived at Indian Wells after capturing the WTA 1000 crown in Doha.

While nothing about Swiatek’s one-hour and 49-minute semifinal match statistics stands out – she outpointed her opponent 76-68 – it all added up to an important win for the young Polish star, who came into the match 1-2 against Halep. Both players fought hard to gain momentum in the opening set. However, a combined four service breaks stymied each and a tie-break decided the opener. Swiatek saved a couple of set points and by the time she won the tiebreaker 8-6, it left Halep frustrated to the point that she smashed her racquet. Then, an important service break in the ninth game of the second set pushed Swiatek ahead for good at 5-4 and she promptly served out the victory.

“In all my previous matches against Simona, I always felt like I had nothing to lose,” said Swiatek, who has put together back-to-back straight set wins after being pushed to three sets in her first three Indian Wells matches. “I was never the favorite. In this one, I felt like my ranking is higher and, obviously, I’ve been playing well. I had to adjust to this different mindset and different mood when I was going on court. …

“It was stressful for sure, but I wanted to fight until the end and be mentally stronger because she’s not giving up. I’m pretty proud that I did that.”

Meanwhile, Sakkari’s hard-fought three-set victory over World No. 7 Badosa, who was seeded fifth at Indian Wells, lifted her into her second title match of 2022 following a recent WTA 500 final at St. Petersburg, Russia, and fifth final overall. The 26-year-old from Athens has reached seven semifinals in her last 10 tournaments, which includes two finals. What is significant about her win over the defending champion Badosa is that it erased an 0-4 mark in WTA 1000 semifinals.

“I’ll be deadly honest that I never, ever thought about it,” Sakkari admitted afterward. “I have a lot of people around me telling me about the semifinals and that I was not able to get over this hurdle. But I never, ever thought about it because I was always very confident and had a lot of belief that I would just get over it soon and it clicked, I guess.”

Sakkari won 58 percent (41 of 71) of her return points and broke Badosa’s serve seven times in 11 opportunities. She outpointed her opponent 84-65.

While the loss ended the 24-year-old Badosa’s bid to become the first woman to win back-to-back Indian Wells titles since 1991 – and it was the Spaniard’s first loss at the Indian Wells Tennis Tennis Garden after 10 straight victories – it should come as no surprise that it took a player of Sakkari’s quality to beat her. It was just the fifth loss in 18 matches this season for the U.S.-born Badosa, while Sakkari has strung together 12 victories in her last 14 matches and is 16-4 in 2022.

“I worked my entire life to get to these late stages of the tournaments,” Sakkari said during her on-court interview. “I know it looks maybe silly to someone – it’s not like I won the tournament, I’m in the final – but it means a lot to me.”

Looking ahead to Sunday, Sakkari owns a 3-1 lifetime win-loss record against Swiatek, who is the first Polish to reach the women’s final since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2014.

“I know Iga really well, she’s a lovely girl and an amazing player,” Sakkari said. “She won a Slam at the age of 19, she’s an unbelievable player – I respect her a lot and admire her game.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable fight for both of us and a very tough match for both of us, because I believe that we both really want to win that title.”

Friday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Saturday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

Isner and Sock look to repeat 2018 doubles title run

Americans John Isner and Jack Sock, earlier eliminated from singles competition, have reached the Indian Wells doubles final. The wild card pair were dominating in their 6-3, 6-2 victory over Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan and Alexander Zverev of Germany Friday night. They converted three of three break-point opportunities, saved all three break points they faced on their serve, and outpointed their opponents 51-37.

After knocking off No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in a match tie-break during the first round, Isner and Sock, the 2018 Indian Wells champions, have strung together six straight sets over three rounds to advance to Saturday evening’s final.

Isner and Sock will face Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico, who upset No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, 3-6, 6-4, 10-7.