Semi-finals night at Indian Wells has become a Saturday morning tradition for me as I caught up with WTA TV on demand. I made sure to avoid social media so I could watch back both matches without knowing the scoreline! Read on for my review of Friday’s semi-finals, as well as a quick preview and poll for Sunday’s final in the desert.
Bianca Andreescu d. Elina Svitolina, 6-3 2-6 6-4
Bianca Andreescu advanced to her first Premier Mandatory final with the best win of her career, holding on for a three set win against the number six seed, Elina Svitolina. Andreescu’s surge in 2019 has been quite staggering and this win, her 27th of the year so far, was the best of the lot.
Andreescu recovered from a slow, nervy start to win the last six games of the opener, 6-3. I was so impressed with how Andreescu managed to exploit Svitolina’s movement which you don’t see all too often! The Canadian player was going into the corners and opening up the court. She came forward to close the points and smartly used the drop shot with Svitolina retreating behind the baseline.
Svitolina improved in the second set and won it quite comfortably, managing to get into the net more often. Andreescu refocused her aggression in the third set and scored the early break. Svitolina stayed in touch and got back on level terms at 3-3. At this point, Andreescu was showing signs of struggling physically and I really felt Svitolina had the opportunity to make an impact and run away with the match. Her coach, Andrew Bettles, urged her to step in on the high balls and be aggressive.
I don’t think this really happened as Svitolina retreated again, relying on her defensive skills. Andreescu continued to be bold in the big moments. Andreescu missed a first match point leading 5-3 in the decider, barely going long with a backhand. While she didn’t take it, Andreescu kept being positive. In what was a tense final game where she had to save some break points, Andreescu produced back-to-back drop shots (both successful!) to set up her fourth match point which she duly converted.
The bookmakers could barely split Andreescu and Svitolina before the match and this didn’t feel out of place at all, a testament to Andreescu’s quality and how well she has been playing this year. I was bowled over by Andreescu’s mentality at the end of this match. This was the biggest match of her career against one of the toughest competitors on tour and she came through with flying colours. At the end of the third set, she had such clarity of thought to play aggressively and bring out the drop shots on such huge points. It’s also so refreshing to see such a young player comfortable to come forward and close points at the net. Coupling the mentality and variety in her game, Andreescu has it all.
I was a bit disappointed that Svitolina wasn’t able to step it up at the end of the match. While she’s played some great matches this year with pulses of attacking tennis, she still tends to revert back to defence in the important moments. While fully crediting Andreescu, she did state in her press conference after the match that she had been playing with inflammation in her knee all tournament. A tough tournament for Elina who played three setters in all but one of her matches.
Angelique Kerber d. Belinda Bencic, 6-4 6-2
I had a feeling this was going to be an absolute classic and the match of the tournament so far – sadly it didn’t materialise! Angelique Kerber rallied from a break down in both sets to snap Belinda Bencic’s 12 match winning streak, winning 6-4 6-2 to reach her first ever Premier Mandatory final.
I thought Bencic was the favourite in this match and she started strong. The Swiss player was striking the ball so cleanly, twice going up an early break and leading 4-2 in the opener. From there on, a steady Kerber went into lockdown mode from the baseline. The rallies lengthened and Bencic couldn’t break down Kerber, throwing in some unforced errors at the end of the set. Bencic had a few opportunities in the second set but ultimately, seemed rather flat and subdued, as an increasingly aggressive Kerber took control the match and finished it off in just 67 minutes.
I hadn’t been high on Kerber pre-tournament after her one-sided losses in Doha and Dubai, and always felt these conditions in Indian Wells did not favour her game. This has been such a steady run from Kerber and she has battled through a challenging draw. Good job, Angie! I’m thrilled to see Bencic back playing some of her best tennis. She’s beaten six of the top ten in just her last two tournaments which is an incredible stat. She looks in great shape and has that confidence and buzz back with her game. I’m excited for the year ahead, particularly the grass court season.
Kerber-Andreescu final preview
A very intriguing final awaits on Sunday with experience going up against youth. I do wonder what Andreescu has left in the tank after such a gruelling semi-final against Svitolina. Her mentality throughout this tournament, passing through all these new experiences, has been exceptional. The final of a Premier Mandatory tournament is a big deal and it’s impossible to say how she will react to the situation. While not a Slam final, Kerber always seem to brings her A-game to a big final like this. Andreescu is certainly not be discounted with the way she has approached each match and played tactically on point. I do tend to think that if Kerber can stay aggressive and avoid getting pushed back behind the baseline, then she has the edge with all her experience in this final.