Swiatek, Sakkari advance to Indian Wells final

Mar 18, 2022, 5:46 AM | Updated: 11:34 pm
Iga Swiatek, of Poland, returns a shot to Simona Halep, of Romania, during the women's singles semi...

Iga Swiatek, of Poland, returns a shot to Simona Halep, of Romania, during the women's singles semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Friday, March 18, 2022, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Iga Swiatek rallied from a break down in each set to beat Simona Halep 7-6 (6), 6-4 on Friday night and reach the final of the BNP Paribas Open.

Maria Sakkari outlasted defending champion Paula Badosa 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 and will play Swiatek in Sunday’s final. Either fourth-ranked Swiatek or sixth-ranked Sakkari would move to No. 2 in the world by earning the title.

It’s a rematch of last month’s semifinals in Doha, where Swiatek beat Sakkari for the first time, 6-4, 6-3 and went on to win the title.

After splitting sets, Sakkari took a 2-0 lead in the third.

“Even though I lost the second set, the way I lost it was by playing aggressive, which helped me a lot on the third set,” Sakkari said.

Badosa broke back, but Sakkari won the last four games to close out the victory and reach the biggest final of her career.

“She served well. She was moving very well. She was playing very fast,” Badosa said. “She didn’t let me a lot of time to build the points.”

In the first semifinal, Swiatek saved two set points in the first-set tiebreaker when she overcame deficits of 3-1 and 5-3. She won the the final four points, with Halep committing errors on three of those points, before Swiatek cracked a forehand winner off Halep’s second serve. Halep received a racket abuse warning for smashing her racket on the court.

Swiatek took a 2-1 lead in the second set that featured five service breaks. Halep took a medical timeout and had a trainer wrap her upper left thigh.

Halep then broke Swiatek twice while taking the next three games for a 4-2 lead. But Swiatek took over from there. She won the last four games in a row, with Halep winning just four points total on her serve while getting broken twice.

“We had like the longest rallies I played here,” Swiatek said. “At the beginning I had to adjust a little bit to the new rhythm because Simona was for sure playing good than my opponents in previous rounds, and I’m pretty proud that I did that. Mentally, I was pretty strong.”

On the men’s side, Taylor Fritz defeated Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1 to reach the semifinals for the second time in five months.

The 24-year-old American is in the midst of the best stretch of his young career, and it all began in the desert in October. That’s when the tournament was held last year, pushed out of its traditional March spot because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, Fritz came into Indian Wells ranked 39th in the world. He beat top-10 players Matteo Berrettini and Alexander Zverev before losing in the semis to Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.

He’s now No. 20 — having reached a career-high 16th in February — and is 24-8 since last year’s tournament. He’s made the quarterfinals in five tournaments and reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in January at the Australian Open.

“Things are starting to come together,” he said. “I feel like my level as a player has gone up a ton.”

Fritz has recorded many milestones at Indian Wells, where he’s always a crowd favorite. He first began coming to the event as a kid, having grown up near San Diego as the son of former WTA Tour player Kathy May.

Fritz made his debut in a Masters 1000 main draw at Indian Wells and notched his first top-10 win here in 2017. His father, Guy Fritz, is a former ATP Tour pro who coaches the men’s tennis team at the nearby College of the Desert.

“It feels like a second home,” he said. “Just the energy is completely different.”

Fritz is the first American to reach consecutive semifinals at Indian Wells since Andy Roddick in 2009-10. The last American to win the tournament was Andre Agassi in 2001; Fritz was 3 years old at the time.

“There’s no place I’d rather have these results than here,” Fritz said.

Fritz next plays No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who beat Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 7-5 6-2.

Rublev has won 13 consecutive matches and is coming off back-to-back titles in Marseille and Dubai. He never trailed against Dimitrov and dropped serve just once in the 1 1/2-hour match that paired former world No 1 junior players.

Saturday’s other semifinal pits Rafael Nadal against 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in an all-Spanish matchup. Nadal is 19-0 this year.

___

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Swiatek, Sakkari advance to Indian Wells final