British 14th ranked Cam Norrie looking to reach his first ever ATP 1000 final when he faced Dimitrov of Bulgaria. The path to the final cleared by the top seeds such as Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev falling by the wayside during the week. Early breaks of serve in each set was key for Norrie. Statistically , the guy serving first in the set has the advantage, but the advantage only counts if he holds serve imperatively. Grigor didn’t do that. The backhand was the weapon of choice for Norrie, unusually so for a lefty. Watch 2-0(40-30), the change of pace like a flip of a switch with that deep backhand to the corner turning the rally in his favor. The unforced errors Grigor committed in this match were not doing him any favors. Having done all the hard work to get the break back to pull score to 4-2, he handed it straight back to the Brit in poor fashion. Check out 40-30 Norrie. First set professionally and quickly done by Norrie wrapping it up in 7 games.
Grigor lost serve again but at least he went down fighting taking the first game of the second set to deuce. But again the unforced error on the second advantage Norrie which did him in again. It wasn’t as if the Bulgarian was bad in this match, not by a long shot. His very best came from net plays, check out 1-0(40-30). The backhand slice making it all happen. Here comes the point of the match. Norrie up 3-2 and 40-30. Normally a lefty hitting the forehand cross court as good as Norrie’s execution spells point over for the opponent. Not Grigor, stretching to get to the ball made the forehand difficult to pull off but he did. Sadly he failed to break the Norrie serve and that was it for him. Norrie now in with a shot at making the season ending ATP Finals with a win in the final which will see him break into the top 10. This is his 6th final of the year tying him with Djokovic and that says a lot.
Former world number one Victoria Azarenka is still going strong at Indian Wells. She faced former French Open Champ Jelena Ostapenko in the last 4 in Carli. Victoria rolling back the glory years especially in the last set. A total of 21 break point opportunities tell the story of two players not exactly at the top of their game. The one to utilize the chances was going to end up the winner. Who started off the strongest? Jelena did. Check her out attacking the first serve 1-0(15-40) to seize early control of the set. Don’t think Jelena meant it but the backhand winner was more of a defensive return than a winner but they all count. Key? Placement. Although Victoria was serving at a decent 60% she wasn’t putting much power into the serves allowing Jelena the direct winners from them. Case in point? 3-2(0-40), she won’t get much easier breaks of serve will Jelena. Ostapenko’s advantage will remain until she closed out the set 6-3.
Who started the second set the brightest? Jelena attacking the serve again from the get go, watch advantage on deuce very first game on Azarenka’s serve. It could be overconfidence or otherwise but from 2-1 up Ostapenko began to wain. For me it was a combination of Azarenka’s hitting getting better. Check out the unforced error at 5-3(adv on deuce) set point Azarenka. Victoria made sure to hit the right areas which is to keep Ostapenko on her toes on the baseline, the error wasn’t a lucky turn for the Belarussian. It was well earned.
To break our pattern who started the third set well? It was Victoria’s turn to attack the serve first game at 30-40 down. It was a crucial game in which Azarenka ended up breaking serve. Impressive backhand winners in the last set from both players. The twists of the back and forth match was at 3-3. Check out the break point at 40-30 in favor of Azarenka. The backhand by Jelena ticked the boxes, control, racquet face open with the swing of hip. Despite a spirited fight the Latvian would lose serve on 5-5 and never came back into this one. The type of shots like at 30-40 there were popping up at same rate as the sublime winners. That inconsistency cost Jelena the match. Azarenka will now face Paula Badosa of Spain in the final after Badosa ended Ons Jabeur’s run in straight sets.
All of the top ten seeds have fallen by the wayside in Indian Wells. This meant an opportunity to the rising stars of the women’s game to end the season on a high. Annett, winner of the Ostrava Open, taking on Ons Jabeur, finalist in Chicago, wasn’t the big name quarter final expected by great tennis here nonetheless. What took Kontaveit to the title on the Czech Republic was her unusual forehand motion. Ons of course has that backhand drop shot in her arsenal. Watch first set 1-0 (Kontaveit) 0-15. This time its the forehand drop shot. Well disguised as per usual Jabeur fashion, getting the elevation on the ball as well as back spin the key. Key game of the first set was at 1-1.
Anett was way too safe with her serve during this match. She had 81% on first serve which is normally match winning form but a telling stat was zero aces. At 40-40 you can see why. Kontaveit was bested by Ons in the winners department despite Anett preferring to fight it out on the baseline. Same applies to 3-1(15-15), the serve from the Estonian was way too safe and short inviting the forehand winner from Ons. Anett did well to take the set to a twelfth game though having been down a double break. It was Jabeur’s turn to serve short. Check out 4-1 first point. Ons’s first serve percentage was at 69% which is enough to win any top class match. My point of the match was at 5-3 first set 40-30 Anett. In all honesty Ons should have won that point. Great defense from Anett getting to the deep forehand in the corner and the unconvincing overhead smash right. Ons waiving the ball away signifying her frustration.
Anett’s undoing in this one was her unforced error count. She however got the better of the Ons at the net. Check out the net coverage in second set first point advantage on deuce Anett. For once Kontaveit read the drop shot at 2-1(0-15) but nothing she could do at 3-2(15-40). Serving 101 for the youngsters. When serving to a right hander and you are also right handed, employing a mixed strategy of serving to both the forehand and the backhand during a game is the most effective way to win a match.Anett always favored serving to the Ons’s backhand, Jabeur grew comfortable with that. Now Watch 5-3(40-30) the match point. The backhand slice by Ons was do die for but the return by Anett my goodness. With the ball that low , the only shot she could play was the backhand with top spin so as to clear the net. She didn’t do that and paid for it.
This was easily the match of the Round even though it features one unseeded player. Fernandez warmed up to the match the fastest despite a nervous opening service game. Check out 30-40, hitting the forehand on the volley key if she had allowed the ball to bounce the momentum would have been gone. Leylah eventually started to make a mark on the set. The most potent of her weapons? The backhand winner/volley. It is easy to forget that she has had her breakthrough year this year with the way she handles high pressure matches. It was not her usual efficient best in the first set for Rogers. She couldn’t cope with the power hitting from the Canadian. Her own hitting wasn’t the best either. Watch set point 5-2(40-30). Look how well inside her baseline Leylah is. Such short serves set you up struggle during the rally and so it proved.
If the first set was easy enough for the 2021 US Open finalist, it was a total nightmare in the second set. Why the abrupt turn around? More convincing serving from the American combined with hitting closer to the baseline during rallies. Check out 2-0(40-30). Great defensive return from the Leylah angled serve, it was neither one or the other(neither lob or a full shot) so it became tricky for Leylah to handle. Serving was good, Shelby with 67% to Leylah’s 65%. Double faulting wasn’t off the charts too, Leylah had the worst record in this one with 5 to 2 from Rogers. The one at set point 5-1(40-30) was the most untimely and disappointing of all. On the second serve she actually hits he ball with the of the racquet almost on the frame SO IT WAS BOUND TO THE wayward.
Third set now. It was more close and edge of the seat stuff from both players. More break point opportunities were crafted by both. Impressive was the way Shelby saved three of them with great serving but it wasn’t enough to hold serve. The very next game it was Laylah’s turn to face three break points, couldn’t save any of them. Both held serve going into the deciding tie break, forehand winners galore. Check out Leylah at 5-4(40-30) under pressure to hold serve. Now turning point and decisive moment of the breaker was Rogers getting the mini break at 3-2. Leylah was in trouble with the short forehand on the baseline leaving a lot of court for Shelby to target. Shelby now faces Ostapenko of Latvia in the last 8. Leylah has had a good year even though it looks like she will miss the year end championships in Mexico.
Karolina seeded number 1 at Indian wells taking on a player largely known in the doubles circles Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia. Karolina is normally ice cool on serve even more so during rallies but it was not so in this one. The lady with the bullet serve from Czech republic was wayward on it treating us to a massive 12 Double faults. Beatriz like most players from Latin America is comfortable on clay more than hard. Check out 2-1 Beatriz 0-15. The drop shot direct from the serve is one of the most ambitious shots to attempt especially if the serve is full to medium like Beatriz served here. The Brazilian returned the favor with a cheeky drop shot of her own showing her clay court acumen. With Haddad Maia in control of the set up a break at 3-2(40-15) on her serve this happens. A clear let from my vantage point wasn’t called as such, maybe I need glasses now. Karolina let it go and lost the point. Maybe the technology wasn’t working? It proved to be pivotal. Beatriz went on to hold in that tough service game with some fantastic forehand winners in there. The set would go the way of the Brazilian. Check out set point 5-3(40-15). In as much as Pliskova hits the ball well without breaking a sweat, she can be so lethargic as evidenced by the weak forehand. Unacceptable.
On to set number two. Pliskova has the fastest serve on Tour this year. Its no wonder she bested Haddad in the Aces department with 5 to 2. Also setting aside the double faults she served a decent 63% on first serve and so did Beatriz. The difference maker was the unforced errors which Karolina committed with reckless abandon. Check out very first point of the set. Pliskova did begin to find her range though as the set wore on. Check out 3-1(30-15). When she gets you on the baseline scrambling to get to her shots its usually point over. Same applies to 4-3(30-15). Haddad Maia’s failure to close out the match at 5-3 threatened to put the party on hold. At 30-40, her footwork let her down. From the serve she was struggling to get to position to play the Pliskova return which went straight into her body. As it were, it was just a temporary reprieve for the Czech. Watch 5-5(15-40). Beatriz’s forehand again bang on the line again punishing some short hitting from Karolina. That was the decisive moment of the match.Haddad Maia’s quest for a first WTA title continues. Pliskova really missing a great chance to win here with Sabalenka and Barty all absent.