Indian Wells | Navarro stuns Sabalenka to set Sakkari next, as Gauff faces Yuan in Last 8

Emma Navarro stunned Aryna Sabalenka, the World No 2, at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Wednesday, while Coco Gauff cruised past Elise Mertens as Maria Sakkari fought her way past Diane Parry, and Yuan Yue upset Daria Kasatkina to complete the quarter-final line-up at the WTA 1000 event.

It’s a little bit unnatural for me to be in the spotlight and be playing on a court like that with a ton of fans and TVs and eyes on me. It’s not my natural way. But I feel I’m definitely getting more comfortable with it and just feeling, like, I can be myself even if there’s many people watching. Also I think that was my second or third fist pump ever. If it was a little weird, cut me some slack!” Emma Navarro

Navarro, who won her maiden WTA title in Hobart earlier this year, outlasted the two-time Australian champion, 6-3 3-6 6-2, in a back-and-forth tussle that lasted one hour and 56 minutes.

The 22-year old American is ranked 23 in the world, and can hardly believe her progress.

“When I acknowledge my ranking right now, compared to a year ago, it’s really crazy and seems really fast,” Navarro said on the WTA Insider Podcast earlier this week. “But then, when I go out and hit, or play a match, it doesn’t feel like anything’s happened that fast.”

Navarro looked completely at home on one of the largest stadium courts in the world as she pulled off the biggest result of her career so far, a win that has sent her into her 4th quarter-final on the season and the first of her career at this level.

She also leads the Hologic WTA Tour with 18 wins, which puts her ahead of Iga Swiatek, and is quite something for a player who was battling to crack the Top 100 a year ago, and is now breaking into the Top 20 for the first time.

Navarro made her WTA main-draw debut in 2019, and was the No 1 college recruit a year later, choosing to attend the University of Virginia, where she took home the NCAA title as a freshman.

She turned pro in 2022, and, after a season of non-stop play last year, ended it ranked No 38.

The momentum continued in January, when she captured her first WTA title, in Hobart, and posted her best run at a Grand Slam, a 3rd-round appearance in Melbourne.

“There’s been a lot of slow and methodical progressions to my game,” Navarro said. “It’s like if a grandparent sees their kid once a year, they’re like, ‘Oh, you’ve gotten so big,’ but the kid doesn’t feel that much bigger than last time. That’s a little bit how I feel.”

Last year, Navarro played 88 singles matches across all levels, crossing the globe to play 29 tournaments.

“I dedicated a ton of my time to tennis, but there were other parts of my life, so I never, considered myself to be a tennis player, solely,” Navarro said. “And I saw the best players in the world as just tennis players, nothing else.

“They’re, kind of, these untouchable sort of figures that I would never be able to compete with because I’m just Emma. I’m not a world-class athlete.

“Being able to identify myself as that took a while, and it’s still a work in progress, I would say. But it’s pretty crazy to be in this list of names in the Top 30 in the world, and just competing alongside so many amazing players.”


Aryna Sabalenka shows her dejection during her three set defeat against Emma Navarro at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Navarro faced Sabalenka for the first time, and, in a tight opening frame, won 2 close deuce games on her serve to take a 4-3 lead, before breaking the Belarusian, and holding on to take the first set.

Sabalenka broke Navarro once in the second to tie the match, the 19 games played yielding just 2 breaks of serve between them, but, in the third, they exchanged 3 consecutive breaks.

Eventually, Navarro wiped away Sabalenka’s last chance to break and extended her lead to 4-1, closing out the win, and finishing with 22 winners to 14 unforced errors, while the No 2 seed struck 38 winners to 34 miscues.

The key was in the break points converted, as Navarro took 4 of her 5 chances, while Sabalenka was 2 out of 6.

Two breaks in the decider helped Navarro claim the 18th win of her season against last year’s runner-up, who entered this match fresh from a solid win over Emma Raducanu, but, in truth, has struggled for form since her latest title win in Melbourne.

The American, who is known for keeping her emotions under wraps, did a subdued fist pump after beating Sabalenka in front of a supportive crowd at Stadium One.

“It’s a little bit unnatural for me to be in the spotlight and be playing on a court like that with a ton of fans and TVs and eyes on me. It’s not my natural way,” the 22-year-old admitted. “But I feel I’m definitely getting more comfortable with it and just feeling, like, I can be myself even if there’s many people watching.

“Also I think that was my second or third fist pump ever. If it was a little weird, cut me some slack!”

Later, Sabalenka shrugged off latest loss and said that she hoped to find her peak form again at her ‘home’ tournament in Miami next week.

“I’d say that this year, Indian Wells, I didn’t feel my best on these courts. I tried to adjust. We tried to work on a couple of things, make sure I’m there and I’m fighting for the title,” Sabalenka said. “We did our best and we’ll learn. We’ll work a little bit more on the movement and, hopefully, I’ll be ready for Miami.”

The Minsk-born 25-year-old, who now lives in Miami, said she is looking forward to the next WTA 1000 in Florida, which starts on Tuesday 19 March.

“I love this tournament and I’d say I feel at home because I stay at home there. Such a nice tournament. I didn’t have a chance to play really well there,” she added, having reached the quarters in Miami last year “Hopefully this is the year to show my best, and to bring my best tennis and to do well there.”


Maria Sakkari came from a break down to see off Diane Parry in 3 sets in the Last 16 at Indian Wells

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Navarro will next face Maria Sakkari, the No 9 seed from Greece, who found her way past France’s Diane Parry, 6-2 3-6 6-3.

Sakkari is enjoying her best run since her title win in Guadalajara last year, winning 3 matches in a row here.

It has been tough going so far this year for the Greek, but, with a change of coach, she has returned to top form in California, rallying from a break down in the third set against Parry.

David Witt is now working with Sakkari for the first time after he became available when Jessica Pegula decided to go in a different direction after the Australian Open.

The move coincided with Sakkari and her coach of 6-years, Tom Hill, parting ways ahead of Indian Wells, and its clear that a fresh approach is working wonders for the Greek.

Despite winning the first set, Sakkari encountered greater difficulties than the score might suggest, as Parry had 3 break opportunities in the 5th game, but the 9th seed held on.

Her troubles continued into the second, which saw the Frenchwoman make a break to reach 4-2, before levelling proceedings.

It all came down to a decider, and that began tightly, with the Greek down 2-3, but then winning the next 4 games to secure the win after 2 hours and 11 minutes.

“This wasn’t the first time I came back from a break down in the third set,” 28-year old Sakkari said in her on-court interview. “I was just brave and went for it. And finally got the break back — and the match.

“I just love this place so much. I play a little bit better here than at other tournaments. I want to stay here longer. Hope I can stay here a little longer — maybe to the end.”

Sakkari will now meet Navarro for a place in the semi-final of the same tournament where she was a finalist two years ago.


Coco Gauff celebrated her 20th birthday with an emphatic win over Elise Mertens to make the Last 8 at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Wednesday

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Coco Gauff, the 3rd seed, dominated Elise Mertens to win 6-0 6-2 on her 20th birthday, and book her spot in the quarter-finals.

The American played her best tennis of the tournament so far, serving well and stepping into the court to overwhelm the Belgian 24th seed.

Cruising through the first set, her 23rd bagel 6-0 set of her career on tour, Gauff won 11 out of her 13 first-service points in the opener, 84.6%, and erased the lone break point she faced.

“Honestly, I think I’m trying to get as many 6-0 sets as possible because we have Iga [Swiatek] who has the bakery,” Gauff said. “I can have a mini one.”

Things got a bit dicier in the second set, though, when, leading 2-1, Gauff hit 4 of her 6 double-faults to drop serve for the first time since her opening match of the tournament, but she regrouped quickly enough, romping through the next 4 games to close out what was a routine victory.

Mertens simply was unable to back up her win over former World No 1 Naomi Osaka in the previous round, hitting just 4 winners to 21 unforced errors in a match that lasted only 66 minutes.

“Tennis goals, definitely to win some more Slams,” Gauff said, when asked about her ambitions for her twenties. “And I want to medal at this Olympics or 2028, that would be cool.

“Then life goals, honestly, I haven’t thought that far. … I’m not trying to get married or anything.”


Yuan Yue upset 11th-seeded Daria Kasatkina to reach her first WTA 1000 quarter-final

© Michael Owens/Getty Images

The World No 3 sees her section of the draw open up after Sabalenka’s loss, and, in the Last 8, Gauff will face Yuan Yue from China, who upset the No 11 seed, Daria Kasatkina from Russia, 4-6 6-4 6-2.

Yuan, who landed her first title in Austin just over a week ago, won her 9th straight match to make her first WTA 1000 quarter-final.

“I am super happy today. Even though I felt tired during the match, I kept my confidence that I could do well,” she said. “I made too many mistakes in the first set, but I well adjusted myself in the second set.”

Fresh from winning the ATX Open, Yuan made her Top 50 debut the following week as a result, and will now rise into the Top 40.

Gauff and Yuan have yet to play each other.


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