Karen Helf continues to report from Indian Wells with her coverage of the first set of women’s singles quarterfinals on Wednesday, which saw Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka progress into the final four.
Simona Halep  d. Petra Martic 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3
With Halep ranked No.1 and Martic at No.51, on paper, the match was a statistical win. Additionally, Halep has only lost one match this year, the Australian Open final. Despite the facts, the Romanian stated that on the day she couldn’t stay calm and panicked a little bit. Part of that was the wind, but also that Martic tested both Halep’s legs and her mind.
Capturing the first break, Halep took a close first set in 39 minutes.
Momentum shifted like the wind, with Martic putting up great numbers in a 55-minute second set. The Croat won 71% of her first serve points, served three aces and saved 67% of break points faced. The 27-year-old showed no sign of backing down, taking the lead to 3-0. Halep got on the board and was methodical with each successive game, as she later explained:
You have just to keep the ball in play and just trying to find the angles.
Breaks and holds did not come easy to either side of the net. Halep found composure and a way back to 5-5. With a Martic hold, pressure was on Halep to hold or yield the set. Stepping up, she produced a love hold to 6-6. The tiebreak looked to go the way of the set. Martic took the lead, only to see Halep come up with an ace to 5-5. Many of the tiebreak points were due to errors rather than winners. This set went to Martic, although both players won exactly 40 points.
Moments later, coaches were on court, discussing strategy.
The third set was more of the same, with Martic coming up with the first break. This time Halep won the race to catch up and never let Martic back into the set. Winning five consecutive games, Halep flipped the pressure from down 3-1 to serving for the match at 5-3. She dropped only one point, 6-3 Halep.
In her on-court interview, the world No.1 initially stated she was not sure how she won, but just like in the match, she found the answer:
I refused to lose.
The 2015 BNP Paribas Open champion gets a well-deserved day of rest before she faces Naomi Osaka for a spot in the final.
Naomi Osaka d. Karolina Pliskova  6-2 6-3
Prior to Wednesday night, Pliskova, twice a semifinalist at the BNP Paribas Open, had only one encounter with Osaka and her nine titles to her opponent’s zero seemed a clear advantage. In the desert, both players have been successful with their powerful style of play and effective serves. Perhaps one might need to bring something different to the match to push past the other. So who would bring the bigger game?
Osaka credits improved concentration as a key to her current success:
I think, the concentration level has been high for me, like, compared to, like, previous years. So, yeah, that’s the one thing that I have been really working on, so I’m happy about that.
Would Osaka stay focused?
The Japanese emphatically answered in the first set, breaking the fifth-seeded Pliskova and holding her lead throughout the set. Pliskova fought 14 points to hold, finishing with an ace to 5-2, but Osaka served out the first set in 34 minutes.
In the second set, the 20-year-old Osaka put pressure on the big-serving Pliskova’s first service game. The Czech fought to hold, but after five deuce points, Osaka broke. You could see Pliskova searching for answers and she found the break to 1-1. This time the two traded breaks and tie at 3-3. Osaka held her nerve and closed the match by winning the next three games, 6-3. When asked about her opponent’s age and experience, Osaka stated:
I don’t really see it as age, because I feel old (smiling).
In press, Pliskova spoke of not finding her rhythm tonight. At first glance, the service stats seemed flipped. Alas, they were not. Osaka dominated both first and second serve points.
An insightful Osaka had this to say about handling Pliskova’s serve today:
Well, I knew that I had to really pay a lot of attention when I was serving, because it could have turned into one of those matches where, like, holding serve is very important. But when I got the break in the first game, I sort of shifted a little bit more attention to returning, because it seemed like she was a little bit unconfident on her serve today. I tried to focus a lot on returning and just making her play a lot of balls.
The Japanese spoke about her goals, stating:
I feel like I want to break records for male and female. I’m coming for Kei. [Smiling]
The bottom half of the singles quarterfinals are scheduled for Thursday.
Angelique Kerber  vs. Daria Kasatkina 
Venus Williams  vs. Carla Suarez Navarro 
When it comes to doubles, the 2017 BNP Paribas Open singles champion Elena Vesnina keeps her California dream alive with long-time partner Ekaterina Makarova. As top seeds, the team lived up to their ranking and in one hour they earned 61% percent of the points by dominating both first and second serves to defeat Lara Arruabarrena and Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
If Makarova had won her second-round singles match against Angelique Kerber, the friends and partners would have clashed in the next round. Despite their many years on tour, they had never met in singles. Instead, Kerber took down the Russians.
Joining Vesnina and Makarova in the WTA doubles semifinals are:
Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic
Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strycova
Gabriela Dabrowski and Yifan Xu