The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells title is up for grabs as the last 4 women were determined on Thursday, with the highest seed in contention, Angelique Kerber, upset by Paula Badosa, and Ons Jabeur warding off Anett Kontaveit.
I came here stressed a lot with the Race. I really didn't look much at the ranking, but I knew I was kind of not far... I am trying to take these steps. I'm trying so hard to calm myself down and handle all this stress because I want to be a Grand Slam champion. If I want to do that, then I need to go through this. Hopefully I'll go through this without having a heart attack Ons Jabeur
Badosa powered past Kerber, 6-4 7-5, to become the first Spanish woman since 2003 to reach the semi-finals here, while Jabeur defeated Kontaveit, 7-5 6-3, becomes the first Arab player to crack the top 10 of the world rankings with her spot in the last 4, both after an hour 26 minutes of play.
In her first meeting against Kerber, a former World No 1 Kerber, Badosa, who is seeded 15, kept her errors down as applied increasing pressure from the baseline to break the German 10th seed 5 times.
“She’s a really tough player,” Badosa said. “She’s really tricky. Of course I’ve seen her a lot, but on court she’s really tricky, she opens the court a lot.
“Sometimes she plays short balls but then very long ones. She plays very tactically.
“At the beginning it was strange for me. She runs a lot. She sees all the balls where you’re going to hit.
“It’s quite tough for me at the beginning, and at the end as well. It was a really, really tough one.”
The No 27 seed has reached her 2nd WTA 1000 semi-final of the season, having advanced to the same stage at the Madrid Open in May, scoring her 2nd consecutive win over a major champion this week after dispatching French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets in the previous round.
The 23-year-old also took out Coco Gauff and Dayana Yastremska, losing just one set en route to her Friday showdown with Jabeur.
Badosa and Kerber exchanged early breaks in the opening set before moving through their service games with relative ease but, serving at 4-5, 30-30, the German misfired on back-to-back points to hand over the set, coughing up her 2nd double-fault to give the Spaniard her 2nd break point, which she converted when Kerber sent her backhand long.
After pocketing the tight opener, Badosa jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the second, and looked to be in total control, but Kerber, a 3-time Grand Slam champion, held on to battle back to 5-5, warding off 2 match points in the process.
“The 5-2 game, I got really nervous. 5-3, 5-4 until 5-All, she played amazing game,” Badosa said later. “Of course I was nervous, but she’s an amazing champion. The champions, they play well at the important moments and at the limits. So that’s what she did.”
After a pair of holds, Badosa finally earned her 3rd match point and crouched to the ground in celebration after Kerber sent her forehand long to end the match.
Both women finished the match with 20 winners apiece, but Badosa played the cleaner match, hitting 22 unforced errors compared to Kerber’s 29, while the Spaniard broke the German 5 times, aided by Kerber’s low first-serve percentage of just 56.7%.
Later Badosa spoke about having friends on the tour and playing them this week.
“I think it’s really important. I’m really, really proud and happy that I have a lot of friends on tour” she said. “Of course, it’s lonely and they are your opponents some days, like maybe tomorrow, or the other day with Barbora [Krejcikova].
“I’m lucky that I have a lot of good relationships with the players. I think it’s important.
“You just compete on the court, but outside the court you can have a good relationship. I’m like that, as well. We can share moments.
“At the [end] of the day, you’re spending more moments between each other than with your own family. It becomes even more your family. They become your own family after so many years.
“I think it’s nice like that. I’m very competitive, but on court. Outside court, I don’t feel that. I’m happy that I can say that they’re my friends.”
Badosa will face Jabeur for the second time this season, having split their two career meetings, both of which went the distance on hard courts.
“I hope tonight she eats a lot of burgers and she cannot play,” Badosa said, laughing. “We were just talking now.
“It’s really fun to play against her. We’re really good friends, again, so I’m playing another friend. It’s going to be a tough one.
“I always said she’s one of the most talented players in the world. She’s doing an amazing year.
“It’s nice seeing all these players that we were like a few years ago outside the Top 100 now being Top 10, Top 20, fighting for the finals.
“It’s amazing. I’m super happy and I’m happy that I can play her.”
Jabeur avoided an upset on Thursday, topping Kontaveit in straight sets and ending the Estonian’s 9-match run.
In so doing, the Tunisian 12th seed became the first Arab tennis player, male or female, ever to earn a spot in the top 10 in the world rankings.
She also leads the table of most matches won this season, with 48, and will play the 1st WTA 1000 event semi-final of her career.
Jabeur, currently ranked 14th, reached the final of the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic earlier this month and became the first Arab player to win a WTA title at the Birmingham Classic in June.
The 27-year-old is now assured her Top 10 debut when the WTA rankings are run on Monday.
“Like, this is a dream coming true. This is something that I’ve been wanting… when I was 16,” Jabeur said “Top 10 is the beginning.
“I know I deserve this place for a long time since I was playing well. But I want to prove that I deserve to be here.
“It is much different to come from my country than being American or French or Australian. They have not just the example of seeing players playing in front of you, more tennis clubs, even more tournaments, let’s say.
“I’ve been rejected by sponsors because of where I come from, which is so not fair,” she added. “I didn’t understand why before, I accepted it.
“I am really proud of the person I became today, just not relying on others.
“Everybody probably had a difficult career. I’m not saying I have the most difficult one.
“I didn’t want to depend on a sponsor or someone who doesn’t even care about tennis or sport in general. It gave me the courage to continue and achieve my goals, and I’m in top 10 today.”
The result of her top-level consistency is a chance to become the first Arab woman to qualify for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara after coming into Indian Wells at 9 on the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard, and she will overtake Naomi Osaka on Monday to sit in the final qualifying position at No 8.
“I came here stressed a lot with the Race,” Jabeur admitted. “I really didn’t look much at the ranking, but I knew I was kind of not far.
“I was talking to my mental coach and I told her, ‘This is too much. But I told her, I need to do this, I need to go through this to be able to win a Grand Slam one day’. To go and win a Grand Slam, you need to take this step.
“I am trying to take these steps. I’m trying so hard to calm myself down and handle all this stress because I want to be a Grand Slam champion.
“If I want to do that, then I need to go through this. Hopefully I’ll go through this without having a heart attack,” she said, laughing.
Her quarter-final opponent, Kontaveit, could not get past the surging Jabeur during what has proved to be a purple patch for both players.
Jabeur was more successful behind her second serve in this latest tilt, winning 62 percent of those points to Kontaveit’s 45 percent, which helped the Tunisian convert 5 of her 12 break points.
Strong play from the forehand side propelled Jabeur to an early 4-1 lead, but Kontaveit stayed sturdy, fending off 3 break points to prevent the 12th seed from taking a 5-2 lead and at 5-4, when the Tunisian served for the set, used a cracking return to reach break point, then took advantage of a drop-shot misfire to pull back level at 5-5.
Jabeur, though, did not flinch and stayed aggressive in the next game, pounding a forehand winner down the line to break Kontaveit again for a 6-5 lead and, serving for the set for a second time, she briskly held on for the set.
She took the lead for good by breaking Kontaveit to love for 4-3 in the second, and although the Estonian nearly got the break back, Jabeur fended off the 2 chances to consolidate her lead for 5-3, closing out the match with another break for good measure, and collecting the last 4 games of the encounter to notch another milestone win.
“Honestly a great match, great fight,” Jabeur said in her post-match press conference. “Always tough to play against Anett.
“I tried to play my game little bit, but she knows me so well. It was kind of tough to kind of execute those drop-shots.
“I’m pretty glad that I stayed calm when I needed to be. It was very stressful at the end. But I’m glad that I got the win and looking forward to play. Why not get the title here?”