Halep and Swiatek survive cull of seeds to reach quarters

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In what seems a flash, the women’s draw has reached the last 16 of the 96 that began their campaign a week ago. And all 16 would take to court on Tuesday to fight for a place in the quarter-finals.

Many who may have expected to be in the fourth round had failed to make it. The tournament was missing the top two women in the ranks even before it began, with Ash Barty opting out of Indian Wells and Miami, and No2 Barbora Krejcikova pulling out at the last minute with injury.

But just four of the top 16 seeds had survived, with No3 Aryna Sabalenka, No9 Garbine Muguruza, the in-form No4 seed Anett Kontaveit, and unseeded former champion Naomi Osaka all early losers.

Indeed, only three of the top 10 remained, including Iga Swiatek, Paula Badosa and Maria Sakkari. Each of them could rise to No2 in the ranks with victory this week.

It also opened the door for some deep runs by women who would have been regarded as outsiders at the start of the tournament.

Briton Harriet Dart, a qualifier, beat the formidable Kaia Kanepi in straight sets, having already put out No12 seed Elina Svitolina. Now she faced Madison Keys already with the prospect of breaking the top 100 for the first time.

And in the bottom half of the draw, the 409th-ranked Daria Saville, also a qualifier, had put out No9 seed Ons Jabeur and then No20 Elise Mertens. The former top-20 player had suffered repeated injury problems, but looked in great shape as she prepared to take on No6 seed Sakkari.

With Victoria Azarenka’s loss in the third round, only two former champions remained: defending champ Badosa and Simona Halep, seeded uncharacteristically low at 24. But the Romanian looked every inch a former champion in her dismissal of American teenage prodigy Coco Gauff.

Now Halep took on fellow Romanian Sorana Cirstea in the top segment vacated by the late departure of Krejcikova. In this quarter, too, the winner over Emma Raducanu, unseeded Petra Martik would play Liudmila Samsonova.

Halep and her countrywoman, ranked just one place apart, had only played one another three times before, despite being age 30 and 31 respectively, and the last, a win for Cirstea, was almost 12 years ago.

Tough then to predict a winner, though championship history and experience favoured Halep. Sure enough, she stormed to two breaks for a 4-0 lead, and a love hold made it 5-1. In no time at all—33 minutes—she had broken again for the set, 6-1.

That turned on its head at the start of the second set with Cirstea making hay against too many second serves from Halep. She was matching Halep’s type of tennis, side to side, acute angles and changes of direction, and she broke, consolidating on serve for 2-0.

Halep had to battle for the third game, too, but having done so, broke Cirstea and held again, 3-2.

They stayed on serve to the business end of the set, with Halep finding greater focus to eliminate the errors and regain her rhythm. And Cirstea buckled under the pressure serving for the set at 4-5: She double faulted, then bludgeoned a forehand long.

Halep, therefore, headed to the quarters, 6-4, the first to do so, and would face Martic, who continued her hot run with victory over No28 seed, Samsonova, 7-6(6), 6-4.

In the second quarter was the highest remaining seed, the 20-year-old Swiatek, who not only stood in second place in the Race but would rise to No2 overall with victory in Indian Wells.

And the former French Open champion was certainly one of the performers of 2022 so far. She started this year with a semi run at both the Adelaide 500 and the Australian Open, then won the Doha 1000 title.

Her quarter, which started tough, was still a challenging one. She faced former world No1 and three-time Major champion, Angelique Kerber, having played three sets to get past Clara Tauson.

The German, 14 years Swiatek’s senior, had reached the quarters at this tournament last October, but had yet to win a match since. However, in this first meeting between the two, it was up to Swiatek to work out the strengths of her leftie opponent and defuse her power.

An eight-minute opening game saw Kerber taking on the less-than-convincing serve of Swiatek to break, but a double fault from the German on break point handed it straight back, 1-1.

The young Pole had to fend off break points again, but did so: She had, though, played 24 points on her own serve already, and was looking flushed with heat. Kerber’s returning was deep and fast, and the German broke again to lead 3-2.

Swiatek was struggling to assert her aggressive game, and Kerber broke again, ready to serve it out, 5-2. Swiatek had other ideas, broke back and held: Kerber would try again at 5-4, and double faulted on set point. But at last the job was done, 6-4, after almost an hour.

Swiatek got off to a better start in the second set, breaking for 2-0, but she was blasting too many errors against the low balls coming at her, and conceded the break back in the fifth game. However, she was steadily finding her range, while Kerber seemed to be finding the going tough. Swiatek went on a run to close out the set with two more breaks, 6-2.

The third set began as the first two, with an exchange of breaks; Kerber mixing up her shots with big looping balls, slice and terrific defence. But Swiatek, aside from that one wayward game, was holding her serve to love, and finally got the key breakthrough to serve out the match, 6-3, her 17th win of the season.

It was her third straight three-setter, all won from a set down, yet the younger woman outlasted the 30-something German, who looked weary as she left court to applause from her opponent.

Swiatek will now play Keys, who beat Dart 6-1, 6-4.

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia