The top half of the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal matches completed Thursday evening to the delight of fans. Three WTA rising stars and one very accomplished tour veteran and Grand Slam champion set the stage.
No.12 seed Ons Jabeur (TUN) d. No.18 seed Anett Kontaveit [EST] 7-5 6-3
Jabeur and Kontaveit had faced each other three times before. The most recent meeting was in Cincinnati where Jabeur came out on top in three sets. Thursday’s quarterfinal at the BNP Paribas Open was tight, but Jabeur had a little extra on her shots and a bit less nervous energy.
The end of the first set was tense, as Kontaveit broke Jabeur to 5-5. But thru cunning artistry the Tunisian took back the reins, breaking to 6-5. She closed, dropping only one point in the final service game, 7-5.
In the second set, they tied again at 3-3 with a Jabeur hold. This time Jabeur pressed and did not let the Estonian back into the match. The next three games were hers, including game eight, which was nine points long with chances for Kontaveit that she could not convert. Final score 6-3.
Post match, Jabeur joked about wanting a five-hour match for her potential opponents Angelique Kerber and good friend Paula Badosa. Spoiler alert, she did not get her wish. On a serious note, Jabeur spoke proudly of her team and that their results are “100% made in Tunisia.” Many do not understand the complexities of not residing in a primary European, North American country or Australia.
The geographic home of a professional tennis player can add major complications to travel, access to development funds, if they exist at all, and can cut-off sponsor opportunities regardless of how great you perform. The 27-year-old Jabeur mentioned the latter, sponsor deals lost tonight. We all know life is not fair. While these realities may seem harsh, they are of little consequence now to Jabeur who has “made her own luck.” Though hard work and determination, she now collides with success on a regular basis.
Jabeur arrived to her presser all smiles, with the knowledge that her win today over Kontaveit will usher her into the WTA Top 10 rankings. Jabeur continues to smash goals, but also is keen to point out how she has room to grow and evolve her game. She appears happy, hungry, realistic and not complacent. As she moves through each goal, she gains wisdom, confidence and sees the opportunities ahead to soar higher.
While Jabeur is credited for her crafty shots and on-court decision-making skills, her approach to competition as well as her colleagues also impresses. To reach the final at Indian Wells, Jabeur will need to break through another WTA stand-out, Paula Badosa. Paula is also one of her best friends on tour. No doubt the two will keep the proper perspective of wanting to slaughter each other for 2-3 hours, then return to high fives and handshakes once the best woman wins.
No.21 seed Paula Badosa [ESP] d. No.10 seed Angelique Kerber [GER] 6-4 7-5
For a bit of 2021 history, Badosa’s 2020 year-end ranking was No.70. Today she is ranked No. 27. The COVID era of tennis has presented challenges for all players, but some more than others. Badosa endured 21-days of hard lockdown before the Australian Open. She was one of 72 tennis players who were placed under a strict lockdown after taking a flight where a fellow passenger tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Melbourne. The Spanish WTA player later tested positive herself.
Despite her inability to properly train for a Grand Slam event, she competed. She lost in the first round to Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 7-5.
After that very lonely, physical and emotionally difficult experience, the 23-year-old Badosa has stated she will not go through a lockdown again before a major tournament. Despite this significant training handicap, Badosa has risen to the No. 27 spot in the WTA rankings. Not easy. Her performance in the desert shows no signs of fallout. Her only issue now is a sore shoulder. This is due to the many matches played, as she went deep in several tournaments this season.
In preparation for her semi against Jabeur, Badosa stated, “I hope tonight she eats a lot of burgers and she cannot play.” Touché!
Badosa has come through Barbora Krejcikova, Amanda Anisimova and now Angelique Kerber earning her place in the final four. Lindsay Davenport of the Tennis Channel, offered some “pre-match” advice stating Paula has to be patient to wait for the right moment to fire a forehand winner. Angelique Kerber will make you work every point. I think she listened.
The BNP Paribas Open will be Badosa’s second appearance in the semifinal of a major event this year. The other was in Madrid against Ash Barty. Tonight, as expected, Kerber mounted a significant challenge for Badosa. The German brought her power, experience and stellar defense to offense on court.
Tonight Paula out-returned one of the best returners in the game. Her service game also upstaged the three-time Grand Slam champion. Paula had words of reverence tonight when asked about Angelique’s thoughts on retirement. Put simply, Badosa stated why retire when you are in great form. It takes one to know one. Personally, I cannot wait for the next throw down between these two friends.
The 2021 BNP Paribas Open WTA Semifinalists
Victoria Azarenka [BEL] vs. Jelena Ostapenko [LAT]
Ons Jabeur [TUN] vs. Paula Badosa [ESP]
Congrats to both Ons and Paula on their progress this year; Jabeur into the top 10 and Badosa into the top 20. They both were joking with their “wishes” for the other, but that is what friends do. No matter who wins their match (and you know they both want to win so badly) there will be a warm embrace at the end of the match. BTW Ons gives the best end of match hugs, no matter the opponent.