Sabalenka, Sakkari set up semifinal showdown in Indian Wells

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Second seed Aryna Sabalenka and seventh seed Maria Sakkari won their quarterfinal matches at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells Wednesday. The two have played seven times before, the Belarusian leads the head-to-head 4:3, but the Greek won the last two encounters.

Sabalenka defeats Coco Gauff 6-4 6-0

To reach the semifinal, Sabalenka defeated Coco Gauff 6-4 6-0 in just over an hour. The Belarusian started with a break in the first game, but the American found her way into the match and made for a competitive first set. In the second, Gauff did not have a single break point, and Sabalenka took the match on her first opportunity.

The 19-year-old Gauff had a winning record against Sabalenka, but noted a significantly stronger challenger today. After the defeat, the sixth seed told media, “She played really great tennis, and you can definitely see the improvement since the last time I played her. I think I just have to figure out a way how to combat that for the next time I play her.” More specifically, the teenager noted, “I think the biggest one is her serve. We already knew she had a great serve but the double faults less, and then her consistency has gotten a lot better.”

With how deep they’ve both been getting into tournaments, it certainly will not be long before Gauff and Sabalenka play each other again.

For her part, Sabalenka knows she is a different opponent. The reigning Australian Open champion explained to press, “I feel a little bit different on the court this year. I feel like I’m a little bit different player. I wasn’t really focusing on the last matches against her. I was focused on myself.” The second seed added, “I think I’m more calm on court and I’m able to control my emotions, which helps me to stay in the game no matter what and just fight for every point, without losing my mind and without giving like easy points to opponents.”

Maria Sakkari outlasts Petra Kvitova 4-6 7-5 6-1

Sakkari’s quarterfinal was a three-set thriller against Petra Kvitova, in which she lost the first set 4-6, and was tied 5-5 in the second before she could break for the set. The final score 4-6 7-5 6-1 does not do justice to how tight the final set was, however. Sakkari was 2/5 for break points in the third set and was aided by Kvitova’s three double faults.

Emotional after the win, Sakkari told media, “For me coming back against her, now that she’s playing good, now that she has beaten so many good players, it’s a bloody good win. I just feel like the fact that I found a way today was one of the best comebacks of my life.”

The quarterfinal match was Sakkari’s fourth three setter in the desert, a tournament she reached the finals of last year but has had a hard time finding her footing at this year. The time on court has taken a toll on her feet. The Greek told media after the match that she wanted a pedicure because her toes are bleeding, “It’s just my nails. It’s not ideal, but nothing bad, like I can properly play and run and everything, but it’s not nice.”

The 27-year-old knows it was not her best tennis tonight, but is learning to gain confidence from her ability to win, even when she is not at her best. In a press conference, the seventh seed said, “By just surviving and just finding ways, eventually I’m sure that my game is going to get better. I really want to see how it’s gonna be when I will start feeling good with my game.”

Just like Gauff knew the Sabalenka she would face is not the same one she played last year, Sakkari is well aware of her semifinal opponent’s recent successes. Sakkari commented, “She’s gonna be a different player, and I respect that. I’m ready for it.”

The women’s semifinal matches at the BNP Baribas Open will be played Friday.

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