The final two quarter-finals featuring the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Karolina Pliskova, Daria Kasatkina and Magdalena Rybarikova will be contested on Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open. For a round-up of fourth round action in the bottom half of the women’s draw, click HERE.
1. Karolina Pliskova v Daria Kasatkina (IW, QF)
In her first Premier Mandatory quarter-final, the 18-year-old, Daria Kasatkina will take on Karolina Pliskova for a place in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open.
I’m definitely on the Kasatkina bandwagon, but even i’m surprised how quickly she is progressing week-by-week. The 18-year-old is into the quarter-finals of Indian Wells by virtue of wins over Daniela Hantuchova (6-2 6-4), Anna-Lena Friedsam (7-5 6-3), Monica Puig (6-4 3-6 7-6(2)) and Timea Bacsinszky (6-4 6-2). A few noteworthy points – Kasatkina was a touch fortunate that she didn’t have to play Carla Suárez Navarro in the second round (who pulled out of the tournament with an ankle injury) and she saved a match point in her third rounder against Puig. Kasatkina’s game seems naturally suited to the surface in Indian Wells.
Kasatkina’s victory over Bacsinszky was another solid showing; her tactics were spot on, staying away from Bacsinszky’s backhand and directing most of her play to the forehand. The first set was still very tight with just a few points deciding it. Kasatkina saved a break point at 4-4 before holding and then breaking the Swiss player to win the opener, 6-4.
Kasatkina pulled away at the start of the second set to go up 4-0. Bacsinszky recovered two games, playing her most aggressive and forceful tennis of the match. Kasatkina hung on for the win, benefiting from a couple of sloppy errors from Bacsinszky and closing with a forehand return winner. Kasatkina finished the match with more winners (16 to Bacsinszky’s 12) and less errors (23 to Bacsinszky’s 34)… happy days for Daria! I’m chuffed though to see Timea playing well again :-).
Kasatkina now gets a shot at Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals; a week off following first round losses in Dubai and Doha seems to have done Pliskova the world of good. The Czech player routed Ana Ivanovic in the third round, 6-2 6-0; while she did play a decent match, Pliskova faced almost no resistance from an injured Ivanovic. In the fourth round, Pliskova defeated the in-form, Johanna Konta in three sets, 7-6(2) 3-6 6-3. Although Pliskova came into the match with a 3-0 head-to-head record, it was an excellent win based on Konta’s recent credentials.
Head-to-head record: This will be a first career match-up between Pliskova and Kasatkina.
Final thoughts: Kasatkina is somewhat of an unknown quantity in this match because she’s had such little experience in the business end of big tournaments. There’s no knowing how Daria will deal with the situation although if her fourth round win over Bacsinszky is anything to go by, she will do just fine The Russian player has shown her nerves at times in closing and also playing passively behind the baseline, but that’s understandable as she is playing her first full season on tour.
Pliskova’s had a trio of confidence-boosting wins and will be tough here, particularly with a far superior serve. I want to say that Kasatkina can keep the run going and her youthful confidence might pull her through, but she will have to play an absolute blinder. Definitely a possibility but Pliskova is the safe pick… whatever happens though, win or lose, i’m really excited about Kasatkina going forward. Apart from probably Bencic, I haven’t felt this positive about an up-and-coming player in a longgg time. I cannot wait to see what she can do on the clay!
2. Victoria Azarenka v Magdalena Rybarikova (IW, QF)
Victoria Azarenka and Magdalena Rybarikova will meet on Thursday for a place in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open. While this is Azarenka’s 11th appearance in the quarter-finals of a Premier Mandatory tournament, Rybarikova has broken new ground at Indian Wells…
The 27-year-old Slovak reached her first Premier Mandatory quarter-final after benefiting from a withdrawal in the fourth round by Roberta Vinci, leading 6-2 2-0. Rybarikova was actually 3-1 up in the head-to-head prior to the match. It was a slice of luck but Rybarikova has earnt her place in the last eight, winning back-to-back three setters against seeds, Belinda Bencic and Daria Gavrilova. The win over Bencic was particularly impressive as she played a super match, disrupting Bencic’s rhythm and fighting through a late bout of nerves (and dodgy smashes!) to secure her best rankings win since Wimbledon when she beat the then world number eight, Ekaterina Makarova.
Azarenka dropped her first set of the tournament in a 6-1 4-6 6-1 victory over Sam Stosur. The pair share an interesting head-to-head as Azarenka won their first six matches all in straight sets; since then, Stosur’s knucked down, winning a first clash in the final of Carlsbad and going three sets on the three other occasions. Prior to the win over Stosur, the Belarusian had secured victories over Zarina Diyas (6-3 6-2) and Shuai Zhang (6-4 6-3). This is Azarenka’s first quarter-final at a WTA Premier Mandatory tournament since Indian Wells in 2013.
Head-to-head record: Azarenka leads Rybarikova, 2-0, in the head-to-head; the first of those was a retirement win at Wimbledon (6-4 3-2 ret., 2011) and the second came in Cincinnati (6-3 6-4, 2013)
Final thoughts: I’m delighted to see Rybarikova having such a great week because her game is so refreshing to watch. This will be a tough ask against a player of Azarenka’s calibre but she should hopefully be able to go out there, give it some welly and perhaps pick up a few new fans. Rybarikova’s game is worthy of causing problems but if she were to get into a winning position, I would have many fears as to whether she could power through the nerves. Vika for the win in two…