In a blockbuster quarter-final at the BNP Paribas Open, the world number one Serena Williams will take on the defending champion, Simona Halep at not before 7pm local time in Indian Wells. The pair were set to meet in the semi-finals last year before Serena was forced to pull out with a knee injury.
The Indian Wells draw has provided some stability this week with the top four seeds in the top half all reaching the quarter-finals. The upsets are fun and make the tour exciting and we’ve still seen that to a degree in the bottom half this tournament, but it’s encouraging to see members of the top ten proving their worth this week; in particular, Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova have enjoyed their best weeks on tour in 2016.
Halep didn’t have to finish her match on Tuesday with her opponent, Barbora Strycova retiring one game into the second set due to an upper respiratory illness. Halep was leading 6-3 1-0 when Strycova pulled the plug. Halep announced before the tournament that she was fully fit and healthy after a stuttering start to the year where she had suffered health issues (nose and stomach) and struggled with a recurring achilles injury in Brisbane.
Simona has looked calmer and more assured this week, and has taken full advantage of two weeks off since her last defeat in Doha prior to Indian Wells. Halep has previously worked her way out of funks with breaks from the tour (for example after Wimbledon last year) and it seems to have worked favourably, acting as a reset for the year.
Serena defeated the qualifier, Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-2 6-2 in just 72 minutes. The match wasn’t as straightforward as the scoreline suggested with five of the eight games going to deuce. Serena dropped her serve once in each set and wasn’t clinical on the break points, converting six out of 17; however, she never looked in danger, finishing with stats of 26 winners to 22 unforced errors.
Head-to-head record: Williams leads Halep, 6-1 in their head-to-head. The Romanian’s lone win came at the WTA Championships in Singapore, a 6-0 6-2 stunner in Round Robin action. Williams reacted with a straight sets win in the final of the same tournament. Since then, Serena has had the edge but their matches have been close. Serena won a tight three setter in Miami last year, 7-5 in the third set. In their last match on tour, Serena won in the final of Cincinnati, beating Halep, 6-3 7-6(5) in a high-quality and underrated match.
Final thoughts: Serena had a small blip in her second match against Putintseva but still hasn’t dropped a set this week. Her actual performances this year have been of a much higher standard than in 2015. Halep too is yet to drop a set this week and has successfully kickstarted her year in the desert, reaping the benefits of being fully fit. It’s great to see big match-ups like this and fingers crossed for a close and competitive contest. Since that match in Singapore, i’ve always wondered about Halep’s belief in rivalling the world number one again. It’s a good surface for Halep but i’d take Serena in a similar result to the one in the Cincy final.