BNP Paribas Open: Svitolina, Fernandez survive stern challenges

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Elina Svitolina and Leylah Fernandez both recovered from a set down to win their third-round matches on Sunday and advance to the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open.

Elina Svitolina BNP Paribas Open

Elina Svitolina outlasts Sorana Cirstea 4-6 6-4 7-6(3)

These two women have battled before. Their last meeting was in Istanbul in 2017, with Svitolina coming out on top.

Sunday was a perfect day at Indian Wells for tennis. According to Svitolina’s husband and match commentator Gael Monfils, the slower surface would be favorable for her game.

First set

Early on, the fourth-seeded Svitolina was not making errors and defending well. The world No.40 Cirstea was taking the ball early with success and hitting big on both wings. So how would this go?

The two exchanged holds and breaks, arriving at 4-4. This included a twenty-one point break by Cirstea to tie at 3-3 after an 11-minute long game. Despite a very physical challenge from Svitolina, the Romanian held and then broke for the set, 6-4.

Sorana Cirstea BNP Paribas Open

Second set

Given Svitolina’s history, we knew the Ukrainian would not go away. Although her bandaged thigh made me question whether there might be an issue.

The 27-year-old Svitolina did not disappoint. With Cirstea on serve at 3-5, she did her job and held. The score now 5-4 in Svitolina’s favor. She had immense pressure to close, avoid a breaker and save her reserves for the final set. The Ukrainian fell behind to 40-15, but turned it around with well-placed serves, a little bit of luck from the net and sheer grit.

Elina Svitolina

Third set

The final set followed their earlier trend. At 5-5 Cirstea was testing Svitolina’s legs with drop shots to hold, 6-5. Despite the appearance of fatigue, the Olympic bronze medalist came up with an ace and a one, two punch to hold, forcing the tiebreak.

While out recovering from injury Genie Bouchard, doing commentary for Tennis Channel, states, “both players deserve to win this match.” The breaker was evenly matched, however, Cirstea broke down under pressure and gave the lead to Svitolina, 6-3. With the match point opportunities, Svitolina wasted no time.

The match of equals tested Svitolina’s physical limits and her might prevailed. With a familiar spot in the final 16 of the BNP Paribas Open, she will need a good recovery as American Jessica Pegula awaits. Pegula took out Italian lucky loser Jasmine Paolini in straight sets. Paolini is easy to spot on court, at 5’3 she is petite but mighty and has both singles and doubles skills.

Leylah Fernandez BNP Paribas Open

Leylah Fernandez survives Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7 6-3 6-4

Nineteen-year-old Leylah Fernandez powered through the late night match with superior energy and gumption, defeating tour veteran, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

While there were several moments when I felt the teenage dream would end, I also realized her endless energy. Her ability to keep her head up and stay positive pulled her though.

Both players were striking the ball well, hitting severe angles and pushing each other for errors. Errors did creep in for both in some bad moments. After breaking the ninth-seeded Pavlyuchenkova in the first set to 4-4, Fernandez delivered a double-fault which was followed by heavy ball striking that gave the break back to the Russian. Pavlyuchenkova brought her intense pace but Fernandez used it well.

Leylah Fernandez fans BNP Paribas Open

There were several moments like this and in the end Fernandez stayed “light”, but was also fiercely animated when coming up with winners. That energy brought the 23rd seed across the finish line tonight.

Per the match stats, she had eight double faults, a 40% success rate winning second serve points, won 34% of first serve return points and saved 9/13 break points. In press she spoke of her “less than best” performance, but also how she and her father discuss how winning ugly yields the same result as a gorgeous Federer-like win. You do what you have to do.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova BNP Paribas Open

Fernandez will take the win while she knows she can do better. As a self-professed introvert, she surprised herself. Post US Open final, she realizes how much she enjoys playing at a high level when she engages with the crowd. Despite her self-critical post-match presser, for those of us watching, she oozed positivity and delivered when it mattered tonight.

Leylah Fernandez

Winning ugly is a strategy that worked. Fernandez enters the round-of-16 at the BNP Paribas Open to play another American, Shelby Rogers. The two have met once before, so there’s a bit of insight. Moreover, Fernandez will rely on her mindset and energy to make the next move. She credits her father and her team for helping foster her “kid like” wonder and enthusiasm for competing. You have to love what you do, right? (photos: Jimmie48)

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