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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, March 16, 2023


World No. 1 Iga Swiatek swept Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3 to score her 10th straight Indian Wells win and set up a semifinal vs. Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina.

Photo credit: BNP Paribas Open Facebook

Avid reader Iga Swiatek isn't into cliff hangers, but she still scripts puzzling plot lines on court.

The world No. 1 continues confounding all comers with major all-court mastery writing champions right out of the draw.

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Reigning champion Swiatek soared through eight straight games sweeping Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3 to score her 10th straight Indian Wells win and advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row.

Shrewdly mixing her spins and speeds, Swiatek won 10 of the first 12 games today and broke Cirstea's serve five times improving to 16-3 on the season.

It was Swiatek's 44th consecutive win against an opponent ranked outside of the Top 50 and sends her into a blockbuster semifinal showdown against Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina. Between them, the pair are reigning Slam champions at three of the four majors.

World No. 10 Rybakina rapped 44 winners stopping 2021 Australian Open semifinalist Karolina Muchova 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4 in today's two hour, 45-minute opening quarterfinal.

WTA ace leader Rybakina suggests she's not winning as many free service points in Indian Wells as she did in Melbourne when she defeated Swiatek for the first time 6-4, 6-4.

"I would say that for sure Iga, she's a big fighter, she moves really well on court. I think physically she's one of the best for now," Rybakina said. "It's not easy against her, because you feel that every point is gonna be tough. She's very consistent also.

"In Australia I just know that when I went to play against her, I had really nothing to lose. She's No. 1 and kind of pressure on her in that moment. I knew the game plan, I knew how I have to play, and in the end, I did well. So we see how it's gonna go tomorrow, but I think I have chances, of course, if I'm physically ready. Yeah, we'll see."

Three-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek, who has already beaten a pair of Grand Slam champions in Bianca Andreescu and Emma Raducanu this week, has not played a three-set match this year. All 16 of her wins have been in straight sets.

The two-time Roland Garros champion concedes she felt the pressure against Rybakina in a faster court in Melbourne and has tried to use that loss to fuel her return to the U.S. where's she's bidding to become the second woman in history and first woman since Martina Navratilova in 1991 to successfully defend Indian Wells.

Bursting out of the blocks with self-assured ambition, Swiatek sped through 11 of the first 14 points for a 2-0 lead.

The top seed had a 40-15 lead to go up 3-0, but Cirstea dug down and made a strong stand breaking back in the third game. That prompted Romanian fans to chant "Sorana! Sorana!" in a song of support.

Playing off her front foot, Swiatek was driving the world. No. 83 backward at times as she drew a netted shot to score her second break for 4-2.

That second break seemed to loosen up Swiatek's right arm. Swinging more freely, she won six straight points confirming the break with a love hold for 5-2.

Thirty-eight minutes into the match, Cirstea slid her first ace down the T to erase a set point.

Court sense is a Swiatek asset—she not only sees the openings before they're actually present, she combines prescience with powerful first-strike tennis to disarm opponents. Swiatek slammed backhand winners into opposite corners of the court for a second set point. This time, Cirstea's forehand found the net as the top seed snatched her third break to seal the 41-minute opener.

The feisty Cirstea can bang the ball from the baseline, but her serve wasn't scaring Swiatek today. The athletic Pole took a predatory posture right on the baseline looking to attack any short second serve and sometimes sending return bolts right back at the Romanian.

Centering a return right back into her opponent's hip, Swiatek scored the first break of the second set when Cirstea clanked a wild backhand off net.

Once Swiatek took the lead she stretched it with ruthless precision.

Cirstea's coach, former Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, was wearing a Dodgers baseball cap exhorting his charge from the front row of the box. The fast footsteps Swiatek sent across the net spooked Cirstea, who hit her third double fault gifting the break and a 4-0 second-set lead to the champion.

Tugging on her black visor, Cirstea finally stopped an eight-game slide breaking Swiatek for 1-4. The reigning champion wrapped up her 10th straight BNP Paribas Open win in one hour, 22 minutes.

In Friday night's semifinal, Rybakina realizes margins are miniscule against Swiatek.

"I know that, of course, if I am gonna bring my best tomorrow, there is chances that I'm gonna win," Rybakina said. "If it's gonna be a bit of a drop like today, maybe in the second set when it was very quick, first three games of the second set, then of course the chances are less just because she's No. 1 and she's very consistent, so there is not many margin to mistakes, I will say."


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