British No 1 Emma Raducanu produced the kind of form that won her the US Open title in 2021 when she eliminated 13th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil, 6-1 2-6 6-4, at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Monday to reach the Last 16, where she meets the World No 1, Iga Swiatek, after the Pole found her way past Canada’s 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu, 6-3 7-6(1).
I’m extremely happy with the way I fought and dug in in the third set. I think I dropped a bit my intensity in the second, against such a great opponent like Beatriz that’s enough, and a 6-2 set before you know it. So I was very happy with how I managed to regain my focus and intensity and come back in the third. Emma Raducanu
Day 6 also saw Ons Jabeur, the World No 4, lose to Marketa Vondrousova, 7-6(5) 6-4, while qualifier Varvara Gracheva knocked out 8th-seeded Daria Kasatkina, 6-4 6-4, but No 5 seed Caroline Garcia outlasted Leylah Fernandez, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-1, and Elena Rybakina took out her doubles partner, Paula Badosa, 6-3 7-5.
Raducanu is enjoying her finest series of wins since her momentous victory in New York, despite coming into the WTA 1000 tournament in the California desert recovering from tonsillitis and dealing with a recurring wrist issue, which curtailed her preparations.
“For me its pretty amazing, I haven’t really prepared for this tournament, I haven’t really practiced so to come out here and play at this level and be competitive is a great sign for me,” Raducanu said. “I did put in two great weeks back home in London, and to see those coming through, and showing on the match court at crucial points sometimes, is really exciting for me.”
Raducanu pays no heed to rankings and flew out of the blocks with a love service hold before breaking the Brazilian and romping out to 4-1 lead, where she broke again, and then served out with minimal fuss to take the first set.
The experienced Haddad Maia altered course and, suddenly, the 20-year old Brit was on the back foot and fortunes were reversed as the Brazilian held to love and sped away with the second set.
To her credit, Raducanu regrouped and dug in, withstanding the Brazilian barrage as both doggedly held and challenged the other with fizzing rallies, the odd drop-shot, and deft angles.
After the first two sets had lasted just over 70 minutes combined, the third and final set took more than an hour to resolve, and it all came down to a single break, which Raducanu won in the crucial 3-3 game.
Each had previously saved a break point before that, with Raducanu denying Haddad Maia at 2-1, and the Brazilian doing the same at 2-2.
After snapping up the break point, and holding her nerve on her own serve to go 5-3 up, Raducanu needed 4 match points to get the job done, as Haddad Maia saved a pair to hold in the 9th game of the decider, before the British No 1 missed a backhand wide on the first chance she had on her own serve.
She did not miss out again, forcing Haddad Maia to bury a final forehand into the net after the 2 hour 19 minute contest, and sending Raducanu into the Last 16 for the first time in her career in the California desert.
“I’m extremely happy with the way I fought and dug in in the third set,” Raducanu said afterwards. “I think I dropped a bit my intensity in the second, against such a great opponent like Beatriz that’s enough, and a 6-2 set before you know it.
“So I was very happy with how I managed to regain my focus and intensity and come back in the third.
“It’s incredible out here, the support was so good and, I think, for both of us today, it was really up there, and I just love playing in front of an atmosphere and a passionate crowd. I’m so happy to be at Indian Wells. It’s one of my favourite tournaments.”
Next up for Raducanu is Swiatek, the top seed, who has yet to drop a set this year.
The 21-year old Pole won the title in Doha, reached the Dubai final, and demolished Claire Liu 6-0 6-1 in her first Indian Wells match.
On Monday night things seemed to be in cruise control as Swiatek went up a set and a break against Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, who is ranked 36, but the Canadian stormed back to force a second set tiebreak.
“I’m glad that I got the chance to play under pressure a little bit more, and see how I am going to cope with that,” Swiatek said afterwards.
It gave the World No 1 a bit of a scare, though, but she steadied herself well enough, hitting deep and unleashing a flurry of punishing shots, and dropping just one point in the breaker, to advance, 6-3 7-6(1), after 2 hours and 7 minutes out in the breezy, heavy conditions .
It was a bruising match-up between two former BNP Paribas Open’s champions, with Swiatek winning here in 2022, and Andreescu in 2019, which she won as a wild-card.
“She changed the rhythm pretty well and, with this surface, it can get tough,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview. “But I’m pretty happy I was solid most of the times, at least.
“And that I could be recomposed in the tiebreaker, because I really knew that I could get my focus up.”
Swiatek converted 5 of her 8 break point chances, while Andreescu converted one less, and the Pole, who is now 2-0 against the Canadian, is still on track to become the first woman to defend the title at Indian Wells since Martina Navratilova in 1991.
“It was a really tight match, and I’m really happy that I actually played such a tight match, because now I see how I can handle those situations after couple of matches that were kind of one way,” she continued. “I think we both played well.
“I’m happy that, in those important moments, I was the one that was more solid.”
It took Andreescu all of 5 minutes to equal Liu’s one-game effort, breaking Swiatek in the opener, only to be broken back and, after another lengthy game, the Pole took a 3-2 lead, breaking the Canadian again with an emphatic backhand winner down the line.
Pocketing the first set, Swiatek came out swinging in the second, breaking again in the first game, but, while serving a 2-1, she suffered an unusual lapse in concentration and an errant forehand got the set back on track.
When Swiatek was threatening to break back, Andreescu hit a terrific forehand stretch volley winner that brought the crowd to its feet, and she then broke to take a 4-2 lead, but the top seed immediately forced the set back on serve.
Taking a 5-4 lead after breaking Andreescu to love, again, she was levelled at 5-all, and it was off to the one-sided tiebreak.
“Complete domination,” Andreescu said, when asked about the breaker. “I did not feel like I played much less than I played the whole match. She just pounced on every ball. I think I missed two shots.”
The 21-year-old Swiatek now meets Raducanu in a Wednesday night match-up between two more Grand Slam singles champions, the Pole having won their only previous match, last year in Stuttgart.
“I think after Stuttgart, I just know how her shots feel on the racket, because before I haven’t even practiced with her,” Swiatek said. “So it helps in that way, but on the other hand, we are playing on hard court. There it was clay, but actually, this surface is slower.
“I have to really take care of the tactics anyway, and we’ll see. Honestly, every day is different. The Stuttgart match was almost a year ago. So a long time ago.”
Reunited with her coach Tomasz Wiktorowski after being without him during the Middle East swing, Swiatek enlisted his help throughout her latest clash, since coaching now is allowed during matches under WTA rules.
“He can see from a different perspective without emotions what was working,” she said of Wiktorowski. “Sometimes I have trouble with analysing exactly what I have to do.
“So it was pretty simple stuff, basically, like coming back to what we discussed before the match, and it was basically the same tactics.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready tactically; my coach is good at tactics so I’m just going to trust him. I’m pretty sure that I got into the rhythm already, so hopefully I’m going to play better with every match.”
Meanwhile, reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina also punched her ticket to the 4th-round on Monday with a straight sets win over her former champion Paula Badosa.
The Russian-born Kazakh, ranked 10th in the world after a runner-up finish to Aryna Sabalenka at the Australian Open, had lost her last 3 matches against Badosa, but she prevailed to take on Russia’s Varvara Gracheva, who upset compatriot Daria Kazatkina, the 8th seed, 6-4 6-4.
It was a disappointing day for Leylah Fernandez, who Raducanu defeated in the final 2 years ago, as the Canadian fell 6-4 6-7(5) 6-1 to 5th seed Caroline Garcia, and, although the match needed 3 sets and nearly two-and-a-half hours to determine the winner, the Frenchwoman was rarely under pressure from her opponent, who managed just 2 break chances and could not convert either.
Garcia next faces Sorana Cirstea from Romania, who was a 6-3 6-1 winner over American Bernarda Pera.
2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova continued her encouraging start to the 2023 season, defeating Jabeur, the 4th seed from Tunisia, for the second time this year.
28-year-old Jabeur skipped the Middle East swing in February to recover from knee surgery in January, but told reporters after her opening win that she may have returned to competition too soon.
Now ranked No 105 after undergoing wrist surgery last season, Vondrousova next faces her Czech compatriot Karolina Muchova, who held off Italy’s Martina Trevisan, the 23rd seed, 6-4 3-6 6-4, earlier in the day.