Thursday, March 14, 2019 - Belinda Bencic plays Karolina Pliskovain the quarter of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open)
At 30-15, with Belinda Bencic serving up 4-3 in the second set, a sudden desert squall blew back some of the BNP Paribas signage on Stadium 1 court, lifting up seat covers high into the cloud-free sky and stopping play for a moment.
If there was ever an in-match metaphor more fitting for Bencic’s tempestuous quarterfinal with Karolina Pliskova, we at BNPParibasOpen.com are struggling to think of it.
The ups and downs of the Swiss star’s 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the No. 5 seed were as compelling as they were high quality. Occasional down in score but never down in intensity, both competitors put on a fierce display of the excellence of women’s tennis, using their smooth, perfectly timed ball striking to blow the ball past one another and constructing points well worth the price of admission into the heavenly Tennis Paradise.
The first set was all Bencic, with the resurgent youngster (a Top 10 player as a teenager, currently on the comeback trail from injury) putting on a masterclass of tennis geometry to pull Pliskova from corner to corner, relentlessly hitting into the open space until a winner could be found – or until the Czech could run no more.
Aided by a 78 percent first-serve point conversation rate, the two-time Premier 5 champion (Toronto 2015, Dubai 2019), wrapped up the set with a second break of the Pliskova serve to move within a set of her first semifinal in the southern California desert.
Pliskova, a former WTA No. 1 and a frequent feature in the later rounds of the world’s biggest events, would not be outdone, however, storming out to a 4-0 lead in the second set by tightening up her error count and pressuring Bencic into errors on her marginally less reliable forehand wing. Though the Swiss was able to reel the score back in to just a single break of serve courtesy of a quick tactical adjustment, Pliskova was ready with adjustments of her own, floating her footwork on Bencic’s central balls to level the match after one hour, 31 minutes of play.
Semifinals Signature 🖊 @BelindaBencic #BNPPO19 pic.twitter.com/3fVdOVYhlt
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 14, 2019
A lengthy deuce game on the Pliskova serve – ultimately won by the Czech after saving four break points – could have been a pivotal moment in the match had it not been for Bencic’s ability to reset after missing out on a chance for an early lead in the third. The 22-year-old’s more ambitious ground-stroking off the backhand would be the difference-maker in the end, as she forced crucial errors from the two-time BNP Paribas Open semifinalist to break in the eighth game of the set. On one last Pliskova forehand long, the match – and a return to the world’s Top 20 – was Bencic’s.
“I thought it was really tricky today because it was windy a lot,” said Bencic after the match. “I had to make some adjustments, but mostly tried to focus on me and my serve.”
Having been broken just twice in the match dropping just one point behind her first serve in the decisive set, Bencic’s assessment couldn’t be more correct. She’ll need to bring all her serving prowess to her semifinal showdown with either No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber or Venus Williams if she’s to extend her win streak to 13 and reach her second consecutive Premier final.