An Australian Open semi-final rematch is all set between the world number one, Serena Williams and soon-to-be world number two, Agnieszka Radwanska at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open on Friday.
In a draw that initially began with 16 of the 32 seeds falling in the second round, the two highest seeds have emerged from the top half. Indian Wells has been a really fun tournament for the women; there’s been a nice balance between top ten players delivering and new names taking advantage of opportunities with players such as Daria Kasatkina making waves in the desert.
Radwanska was first into the semi-finals with a 6-2 7-6(3) victory over Petra Kvitova; the number three seed, Radwanska, came back from *2-5 down in the second set to secure her second consecutive win over Kvitova. The performance wasn’t as glitzy as some of her previous displays, but it was solid enough and got the job done against an erratic, Kvitova. The Czech player produced 22 unforced errors in a wayward opening set. Kvitova settled down at the start of the second set, saving two break points with a confidence-boosting first hold of serve. At the second time of asking, Kvitova consolidated a break of serve to lead 5-2, taking advantage of some rare errors from Radwanska.
Radwanska battled back in the second set with three straight games, securing the break back with a wonderful drop shot-lob combo (see tweet below). The tiebreak was all Radwanska as the net, clearly Polish, saw three clips of the net all go the way of the number three seed. Radwanska’s ability to mix up the play with slices and drop shots was a key factor in this match, contributing to Kvitova’s hefty tally of 41 unforced errors. Kvitova’s never done much through the Indian Wells-Miami swing so this was a very positive result, particularly as she was defending no ranking points.
Serena produced an excellent performance to take out the number five seed and defending champion, Simona Halep, 6-4 6-3 in Thursday’s late night match. It was a decent match and an encouraging display from Halep after a miserable start to the year. The Romanian player, cheered on by her many fans in the stadium, went up an early break with Serena producing a trio of errors long. The world number one responded immediately with an aggressive game including two return winners. Serena had great success at dragging Halep out wide with the serve, and also pushing her back behind the baseline with her depth and weight of shot.
The key moment in the first set was the sixth game with Serena up 3-2; Halep had a game point but netted a forehand and would eventually be broken. While Halep prolonged the set by breaking Serena as she served for the set, the Romanian player was unable to hold serve under the barrage of pressure from the American. Halep stayed in contention at the start of the second set but one loose service game, the sixth game again, and that was it. Serena didn’t flinch, serving out the victory with her seventh ace of the match.
Head-to-head record: Serena leads Aga, 9-0 in the head-to-head. While Radwanska did record a win in exhibition action at the Hopman Cup last year, she’s never really come close to a win on the WTA tour. Radwanska’s only set in those nine encounters came in the Wimbledon final back in 2012. In their most recent match, Serena won in the semi-finals at the Australian Open, 6-0 6-4, playing a near-perfect first set.
Final thoughts: So what can Aga do? It’s going to be a very, very, very tough ask to stop Serena. In her favour, she’s been playing very well this week and has successfully managed to mix up the play with slices, drop shots and lobs. She’ll need to keep doing that against Serena and of course, get a high percentage of first serves in to stand a chance. Serena’s form has been slightly ominous and she will be the heavy favourite to reach a first Indian Wells final since 2001…
Prediction: S.Williams d. Radwanska in 2 sets