Iga Swiatek celebrates after winning the semifinals match against Simona Halep; Maria Sakkari (R) reacts during her women’s singles semifinals match against Paula Badosa in Indian Wells on Friday night. AP
Maria Sakkari ended Paula Badosa’s bid for a repeat title at Indian Wells on Friday, beating the defending champion to set up a final clash with former French Open winner Iga Swiatek.
Greece’s Sakkari triumphed 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 to end Badosa’s bid to become the first woman since Martina Navratilova in 1990-91 to win back-to-back Indian Wells titles.
Poland’s Swiatek beat two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep 7-6 (8/6), 6-4. Ranked fourth in the world, Swiatek was already assured of rising to a career-high third in the world.
Either she or sixth-ranked Sakkari can claim the No. 2 spot with a victory in Sunday’s title match.
“Really it’s over my expectations,” said Swiatek, who said she came into the prestigious event in the California desert doubtful she could follow up her fourth career title in Doha with another deep tournament run. But she rallied from a break down in each set and saved two set points in the first-set tiebreaker to notch a 10th straight WTA match win. “It was really intense,” Swiatek said, “really physical. I think we had the longest rallies I played here.”
US businessman Bill Gates (2nd L) attends the tennis match between Paula Badosa and Maria Sakkari. AFP
The 20-year-old evened her head-to-head record against Halep at two wins apiece, but she admitted it required a change in mindset taking on a player who was once ranked so much higher than herself.
“I had to fight to the end and be mentally stronger,” she said. “Simona is a really strong player mentally and she’s not giving up so I wanted to do that better.”
Halep, who was hindered in 2021 by calf and knee injuries, gained a 5-4 lead with her second break of the opening set, but she couldn’t close it out in the next game and they went to the tiebreaker.
The Romanian again had the upper hand in the tiebreaker, but at 6-4 she fired a backhand long and Swiatek won the next three points — saving a set point with a deep backhand volley then clinching the set with a blistering return of a Halep second serve.
A frustrated Halep was warned after thumping her racquet down in disgust and Swiatek, her confidence bolstered, broke Halep for a 2-1 lead in the second. But the set unfolded much like the first. After having her left thigh taped by the trainer, Halep reclaimed the break and grabbed another to move ahead 4-2 on a pair of forehand errors from Swiatek. But once again the Romanian couldn’t maintain the advantage and Swiatek won four straight games to seal the win.
Sakkari goes into the final buoyed by the knowledge that she has won three of four prior encounters with Swiatek. The Greek player shook off an opening break of her serve to win six of seven games on the way to pocketing the first set, breaking Badosa twice as the Spaniard struggled with her serve. Badosa battled back in the second, breaking Sakkari twice on the way to a 3-2 lead and hanging on to force a third, in which Sakkari’s aggression and power were too much for her opponent.
“I just had full faith and I believed in myself every single moment,” said Sakkari, who fought back tears as she spoke to fans after the match. “I’m just speechless right now.” Sakkari has reached seven semi-finals in her last 10 tournaments, including a run to the final at Saint Petersburg last month. But she had never won a semi of an elite WTA 1000 event in four prior attempts. She’ll be vying for just her second career title, her first coming on clay in Rabat in 2019.