World’s top two out, Svitolina finds new energy reserve to overcome Barty in Indian Wells

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Tuesday’s fourth round may be remembered as the day the BNP Paribas Open WTA draw folded like a poker hand. How’s that for a dramatic start on the 30th anniversary of the Internet? In a social media light, it seems fitting, but yes, a bit dramatic. However, we did lose some of the top-tier today with respect to pure ranking. Several players have noted that ranking matters less to them these days. In another twist, the desert sun returned, so adjustments to the ball bounce created another hurdle.

[23] Belina Bencic (SUI) d [1] Naomi Osaka (JPN) 6-3 6-1

World No.1 Naomi Osaka played her first match on Stadium 2 against Belinda Bencic. The Belinda Bencic who recently beat Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and Aryna Sabalenka to win Dubai. But, also the Bencic who has been wrought with injuries that have held her back from performing well on a regular basis. So, in a sense, what the 22-year-old Swiss can really do is a still a wildcard.

On Tuesday in Indian Wells, Bencic the phenom stepped on court. She played with ultimate aggression, taking the ball early and taking time away. Bencic did not allow her opponent to find her rhythm, to play her game.

The 21-year-old Osaka reflected on this fist title defense:

I think I did well. I didn’t lose in the first round. That’s a plus… I think I did well for my first time.

In addition, the two-time Grand Slam champion discussed that her coach change up to Jermaine Jenkins is also part of a need to keep her game evolving, unpredictable for opponents. She was clearly happy that she executed some successful drop shots. She wants to keep people on their toes.

Bencic reflected on the match and her health:

I definitely think we both like to take the ball early. I’m trying to take the ball early, trying to dictate the point myself. I think definitely she has a little bit more spin on her ball than me. I think I served really good. The first set was great for me, and then I just tried to keep it like that. It was a little bit more windy in the second set, but I think tactic-wise, I played very solid.

The world No.23 added:

I’m so happy to be on the court again. I’m actually enjoying, I’m healthy, and I’m not putting the pressure on myself. I know how frustrating it was when I wasn’t able to play at all.

In the quarterfinals, Bencic will take on ace queen Karolina Pliskova.

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) d [2] Simona Halep (ROU) 6-2 3-6 6-2

The Vondrousova vs. Halep match contained thirteen breaks of serve. As Halep was clearly frustrated, her signature thigh slaps returned. Despite the Romanian’s best defenses, Vondrousova’s fluid swings kept the balls deep and, more importantly, in play at key moments.

[6] Elina Svitolina (UKR) d [12] Ashleigh Barty (AUS) 7-6(8) 5-7 6-4

At three hours and 12 minutes, this was a thriller and, yes, on Stadium 4, a general admission court. I watched as the crafty artist and the marathoner battled. Barty’s placement and shot selection was skillful, while Svitolina’s grit and determination wowed. This one is a heart breaker, where the loser wins the battle but not the war. Barty was dismissed, despite winning 51% of the total points. The contrasting styles made this an interesting watch.

Svitolina’s effort was highly audible in the second set and, with her knee taped, the grinding could not have been easy. At 5-4 the Ukrainian had opportunities to close and put an end to what sounded like torture. Instead, she was broken and then Barty held after 14 points. The score was now even 5-5. It appeared that the constant chase was taking a toll, as Svitolina began her next service game with a double fault. You could hear her boyfriend Gael Monfils court-side cheering her on with a gentle “Allez”. Three points later, Barty had the break to serve out the set. The suspense of the next game was extreme, lasting 18 points, where the set went to the Australian.

Seeing and hearing the condition of Svitolina, I felt she would not last a third set and maybe a retirement was in the cards. BUT, NO! It was probably fortunate that the sun went down, to at least bring some heat relief. I do not know where or how, but she found another energy reserve. In the third set, Barty broke her immediately, but Svitolina squared things up to 3-3. Then, she won the next two games to 5-3. Barty broke back again, but Svitolina closed when it absolutely mattered, breaking Barty for the set to 6-4.

It seemed sheer will and determination lifted the 24-year-old today. The Ukrainian will need a solid recovery, since her quarterfinal opponent Vondrousova already dismissed “Simona the grinder”.

[8] Angelique Kerber (GER) d [9] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 6-1 4-6 6-4

In their first ever meeting, Kerber and Sabalenka closed the evening session on Stadium 1. As the score indicates, this match had several momentum shifts. Kerber had moments of brilliant shots and then critical errors. Sabalenka seemed to have her head intermittently in and out of the game.

There were several coach visits and some interesting commentary. Sabalenka’s coach was heard saying: “If you want to be a champion, show it now.” The ninth seed’s intensity was immense, but it also produced some random rogue moments. I watched her with the perception that she is a bit of a “wild horse” right now. But when she channels the intensity into measured aggression, her shots are lethal. She played at an urgent pace tonight.

In the end, Kerber’s experience, eventual composure and of course her legs got her the win. Kerber’s next opponent is none other than the classic Venus Williams. This is another one not to miss. I keep saying that, don’t I?

Bianca Andreescu (CAN) d [18] Wang Qiang (CHN) 7-5 6-2

Bianca Andreescu is 18 years old and this is her first appearance at Indian Wells. In press, when asked if her win felt amazing, the Canadian answered:

Amazing is an understatement right now (smiling). I’m just grateful.

Next up for Andreescu is “surreal opponent” Garbine Muguruza and they are opening Wednesday’s quarterfinal play at 11 a.m. local time. Andreescu has watched Muguruza play many times on television.

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