World No 1 Iga Swiatek swept away 32-year-old veteran Sorana Cirstea, 6-2 6-3, to move into the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Thursday, where she will meet Elena Rybakina, who had outlasted Karolina Muchova earlier in the day, 7-6(4) 2-6 6-4.
Really, I didn't really watch a lot of what Elena did. I was more focused on what Karolina did, because I feel, like, she can play great tennis but because of her injuries she wasn't able to do that, and it's great to see her performing that well. Elena, I know she can play great tennis, I felt that on my racquet. I don't need any proof. I'll just be ready for tomorrow, and that's all. Iga Świątek
“I’m happy that I played so intense that I could start both sets well,” Swiatek said. “I feeling, like, [I’m] handling things pretty well, and just playing my game.”
Swiatek was broken once in each set, but she still won 10 of the first 12 games to make her 19th career semi-final, and her second straight in the desert.
The 21-year old Pole opened up a 2-0 lead, but Cirstea broke back from 40-15 down, and they then both traded holds again for 3-2, before Swiatek won the next 8 consecutive games to build up a 6-2, 4-0 lead.
The Romanian pulled a break back for 1-4, but the top seed held on to close it all out after 80 minutes to extend her winning streak at Indian Wells to 10 consecutive matches.
It was a dominant and clean performance by Swiatek, who finished with 19 winners to her 13 unforced errors, and broke Cirstea on 5 of her chances.
Later, Swiatek said that she had had to grow up quickly in order to handle being the World No 1.
“It depends, because, like, professionally, I think, I change a lot, because I’m in a totally different situation,” she said. “I had to kind of grow up tennis-wise pretty quickly because I became World No 1, and I had to handle that.
“Plus, you know, winning two more slams, it was a dream come true, but also, you know, a huge experience.
“But as a person I think I’m just growing up like a normal way. Yeah,” she added, with a grin.
The defending champion next takes on Rybakina, the 10th seed, in Friday’s semi-finals at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
It will be the 3rd meeting between the two, with their head-to-head currently tied at 1-1, but Rybakina won their most recent encounter, which came in the 4th-round of the Australian Open.
Swiatek said that she had not really watched the Kazakh during her quarter-final against Muchova.
“Honestly, I watched, like, I didn’t really focus,” Swiatek admitted. “I was just watching, I think, the end of first set, because there was a tiebreaker, and I was just curious.
“Really, I didn’t really watch a lot of what Elena did. I was more focused on what Karolina did, because I feel, like, she can play great tennis but because of her injuries she wasn’t able to do that, and it’s great to see her performing that well,” she added.
“Elena, I know she can play great tennis, I felt that on my racquet. I don’t need any proof. I’ll just be ready for tomorrow, and that’s all,” the Pole concluded.
In the earlier quarter-final, Muchova earned the first break of the match to take a 3-2 lead, and held onto her serve to create a set point when she was serving at 5-4, but Rybakina converted her 6th break-back point with a forehand to force proceedings into the tiebreak.
The Czech missed a forehand on serve at 4-5 in the breaker, and it was Rybakina who won her 5th tiebreak of the season when Muchova coughed up a double-fault.
Breaking serve in the 2nd game of the second to open up a 3-0 lead, Muchova earned another to go up 5-2 and then levelled the score at a set all.
Rybakina earned the decisive break in the 3rd game of the decider when Muchova produced another untimely double-fault, and while the Czech forced the 8th game to deuce as the Kazakh was serving at 4-3, the Wimbledon champion eventually sealed the win with an ace down the middle on her 3rd match point.
She won 15 of 16 first-serve points, and never faced a break point in the set.
“I served much better in the third,” Rybakina said on court. “I didn’t start that well in the beginning of the match, I was a bit slower than usual, and here the conditions are not that easy for me.
“In the end, in the important moments I played well.”
In the match, Rybakina finished with 6 aces, 6 double-faults and was just 2 of 14 on her break chances, but she broke early in the decider for 2-1, which was all she needed and she held on to win through after 2 hours and 45 minutes on court.
“I didn’t start the match so good,” Rybakina said. “I was a bit low on energy. Didn’t move that well. Didn’t serve also. So it was already struggle from the beginning.
“Also, Karolina, she played really well, she was opening the court and using these slow conditions. It was difficult for me to get free points.
“It was tough first set, so in the second, it was difficult to keep the level. I dropped and lost three games really quick. So, of course, after I start to feel the rhythm again, but it was already too late for the second set.
“In the third, I just knew that I have to push more, try to focus on every point. Yeah, just somehow to raise my energy. In the end it was really close also the third set.”
Rybakina has made it into her 18th career semi-final, her first at Indian Wells, and the first at the WTA 1000 level.
Looking ahead to Swiatek, Rybakina, who won their last meeting in January, 6-4 6-4, said: “For sure it’s gonna be different than in Australia. She’s a big fighter, she moves really well on court.
“I think, physically, she’s one of the best for now. It’s not easy against her, because you feel that every point is gonna be tough. She’s very consistent also.
“In Australia I just know that when I went to play against her, I had really nothing to lose. She’s No 1 and, kind of, pressure on her in that moment.
“I knew the game plan, I knew how I have to play, and in the end, I did well. So we see how it’s gonna go tomorrow, but I think I have chances, of course, if I’m physically ready.”
Swiatek and Rybakina join Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari in the Last 4, who played on Wednesday, and it is testimony to the consistency now at the top of the WTA rankings that 3 of the 4 semi-finalists are major title holders.
Swiatek, Sabalenka, and Rybakina currently hold all 4 Grand Slam titles between them, with Swiatek and Sabalenka also occupying the Top 2 spots in the WTA rankings.
The highly-dominant Swiatek, who is the current French Open and US Open champion, continues her reign at the top, and will soon complete a full year as the undisputed World No 1 after first earning the top spot in April last year.
Defending Indian Wells champion Swiatek’s opponent in the semi-finals is the reigning Wimbledon champion, Rybakina, who also reached the Australian Open final earlier this year, beating Swiatek in the process.
The Russian-born Kazakh had looked on course for a second Major in Melbourne, until Sabalenka capped off her most impressive campaign at a Grand Slam tournament with a 3-set win over Rybakina in the final.
Along with Swiatek, Sabalenka has been the most in-form player since late 2022, having reached the final of the WTA Finals, and already winning 2 titles on tour in 2023.
Sabalenka’s opponent in Friday’s semi-finals is another consistent player in World No 7, Sakkari, who was a finalist at Indian Wells last year and a semi-finalist at the WTA Finals.
Sabalenka, Rybakina, and Swiatek also currently occupy the Top-3 spots in the 2023 Race to the WTA Finals, which is further testament to their consistency.
Sabalenka, who has already won 17 matches this year ahead of the Indian Wells semi-finals, comfortably leads the race with 2,660 points, and has now reached at least the quarter-finals in all tournaments she has played so far this year.
Rybakina and Swiatek sit behind Sabalenka in 2nd and 3rd place respectively, with 1561 points for Rybakina to Swiatek’s 1420 points.
Backing up her Australian Open campaign, Rybakina made a quarter-final run in Abu Dhabi before her stellar Indian Wells run this week.
Meanwhile, Swiatek quickly put the disappointment of the Australian Open behind her by winning the Qatar Open, reaching the Dubai Tennis Championships final, and is looking in ominous form again here at Indian Wells.