Five Czechs lined up among the Last 16 standing at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Tuesday, but only two made it into the quarter-finals, Petra Kvitova and Karolina Muchova, who stopped Jessica Pegula and Marketa Vondrousova respectively, while Aryna Sabalenka, the World No 2, came from a set down to defeat Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari saw off Karolina Pliskova in 3 sets, and Elena Rybakina and Coco Gauff also won through to the Last 8 for the first time.
I'm really glad that I won my first Grand Slam in this age, because I felt, like, if I would be 18 years old to win the Grand Slam, then I would be struggling for years. I understand that, yeah, that's happened, and that was my dream. It was an amazing moment but time to move on. It wasn't the only one goal! Aryna Sabalenka
Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, reached her first Indian Wells quarter-final, continuing her strong 2023 campaign with a battling 6-3 2-6 6-4 win over Krejcikova, the 2019 French Open winner.
The Czech ended Sabalenka’s perfect 2023 run with a victory over the Belarusian in the quarters at Dubai last month, and she held a chance to extend this encounter, but the No 2 seed saved a break point in the final game before closing it out.
“It’s always tough matches against Barbora,” Sabalenka said. “She played unbelievable tennis. I’m just super happy with this win.”
The 24-year-old is a bit taken aback by all the hoopla surrounding her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne, including the photo shoot with the trophy posed on a gondola.
“I felt really weird,” she said. “It was just like so much attention to me [but] I was thinking ‘OK, I won my first Grand Slam, let’s just take it all in’.”
She has reached two quarter-finals since then, and said not winning a major until she was 24 may have helped her keep her feet on the ground.
“I’m really glad that I won my first Grand Slam in this age, because I felt, like, if I would be 18 years old to win the Grand Slam, then I would be struggling for years,” she said. “I understand that, yeah, that’s happened, and that was my dream.
“It was an amazing moment but time to move on. It wasn’t the only one goal!”
Sabalenka improved to 15-1 matches for the year with the 2-hour and 3-minute victory, firing 11 aces to keep Krejcikova at bay, and, despite converting only 3 of her 11 break points in the match, avenging her Dubai loss to improve their head-to-head record to 3-1.
She will fight for a semi-final berth against 6th-seeded American Coco Gauff, who rallied in the third set for a 6-3 1-6 6-4 win over Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson.
“Playing-wise, obviously, there is a lot of things I can improve on for the next match,” said Gauff, who turned 19 on Monday. “Considering the circumstances, I’m happy to be done with today.”
Gauff thrilled the partisan crowd inside Stadium 2 by winning the last 4 games after saving 3 break points at 4-4 in the decider, which would have seen Peterson serve for her third career Top 10 win, and she broke Peterson’s serve from 30-0 down to win the match.
“Rebecca, she’s not an easy opponent,” Gauff said. “I played her in one of my first pro tournaments … and she whooped me pretty bad!
“Today, it was just a mental thing, staying in the match. I wasn’t playing my best in some moments, and wasn’t serving as well as I’d like to, but, I think, my mentality kept me in today.
“[The crowd] helped me, were cheering for me even after the second set, were rooting for me every step of the way.”
Peterson, the in-form qualifier ranked 103, was bidding to be the first Swedish woman to reach the quarters of a WTA 1000 event, and she gave Gauff all she could handle over their 2 hours and 17 minutes on court.
The Swede won 9 of 11 games after dropping the first set, in which she was the first of the two to break serve before losing 5 of 6 games, but Gauff stymied Peterson’s momentum in the early stages of the decider as she turned the match around.
Gauff brings a 3-1 head-to-head lead over Sabalenka into the upcoming quarter-final.
Meanwhile, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova saved 4 match points to shock 3rd-ranked American Jessica Pegula, 6-2 3-6 7-6(11), on Tuesday to to make the Last 8 at Indian Wells for the first time in 7 years.
Kvitova, a former World No 2 who is now ranked 15 in the world, will try to make her first Indian Wells semi-final in her 12th appearance when she takes on last year’s runner-up Maria Sakkari.
“I had all these emotions, up and down all the match, it was a disaster at some point and then I was just making winners,” Kvitova said. “I don’t know how many match points I was saving today — four? Oh! I don’t know how I did it!”
After the 33-year old grabbed the first set, Pegula turned things around but couldn’t finish the job, and Kvitova saved a match point in the 10th game of the third set, breaking the American.
They traded two more service breaks to get to a tiebreak that was neck-and-neck throughout.
Pegula had the first chance at 6-5, but Kvitova won the next 2 points to give herself a match point, and on it went, until the left-handed Czech’s gutsy serve-and-volley move on her 4th match point finally paid off.
“Just kept going,” Kvitova said after the topsy-turvy affair. “I just tried to still be aggressive, but it not always was there for me. The emotions were of course very happy. And a little bit exhausted now.”
Kvitova now holds a commanding 4-1 head-to-head lead over Pegula, and she has beaten the World No 3 both times they have played this season.
Her next opponent is Sakkari, the No 7 seed from Greece, who also came through a closely-contested duel on Tuesday, moving past 17th-seeded Karolina Pliskova, 6-4 5-7 6-3, to make the quarters.
After the pair split the first two sets, Pliskova won an epic 19-minute game, where she survived 11 deuces and saved 10 break points, simply to hold for 1-0 in the deciding set.
The Czech briefly ran with that momentum, breaking for 2-0, but Sakkari broke back immediately to pull back on serve, and the Greek eased home from there, winning 6 of the last 7 games of the encounter, and levelling their head-to-head at 3 wins apiece.
There was a little drama between them, though, as, in the 8th game of the decider, Pliskova felt that Sakkari’s racket had touched the ball as it flew out of court and the point was awarded to the Greek because the chair umpire did not see it.
Sakkari denied the charge that the ball had pipped her racket and, in the end, Pliskova managed to win the game to cut Sakkari’s lead to 5-3, but the Greek served it out in the following game, prompting a cool handshake at the net between the two.
“I expect a big fight, for sure,” Kvitova said of her forthcoming match against Sakkari. “That’s normally [what] our matches look like. And I know that she’s playing all three-setters here, as well as me, probably, so it will be a really close one, for sure.
“I know what I have to play. I know I lost to her here in Indian Wells. … I just will try my best to play aggressive as I did today.”
The other Czech through to the quarters is Karolina Muchova, who edged out her compatriot Marketa Vondrousova, 6-4 6-7(2) 6-4, at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday night.
Muchova, ranked No 76, will face Kazakh Elena Rybakina, the No 10 seed and reigning Wimbledon champion, who dispatched Russian qualifier Varvara Gracheva, 6-3 6-0, in 86 minutes.
In the late-night match, top seed Iga Swiatek dominated Brtain’s Emma Raducanu in another flawless performance by the World No 1, who is the defending champion here, and notched her 9th straight BNP Paribas Open win in decisive fashion, defeating the 2021 US Open champion, 6-3 6-1.
Swiatek got the job done in a cool 84 minutes, breaking open a relatively tight first set and rolling through 10 of the final 12 games to book a quarter-final clash with Sorana Cirstea, who upset Caroline Garcia, the 5th seed, 6-4 4-6 7-5.
The Romanian earned her first top-5 win since 2017 in beating the Frenchwoman and, at 32, is now probably in the latter stages of a career that once took her as high as World No 21, but this is not slowing her down any after reaching her biggest quarter-final of the season so far.