On Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open, tennis’ version of March Madness continues with top-half quarterfinal action. The final four semifinal slots are on the line – two for the men and two for the women.
Read on for a bite-sized preview of each mouthwatering Thursday matchup…
It’s been near impossible to snag games, let alone sets or a match, against World No.1 Iga Swiatek. That torch has been passed from Claire Liu (1 game) to Bianca Andreescu (impressively nine games, but no sets) and Emma Raducanu (four games this week) to no avail at this year’s BNP Paribas Open. Next up? An Indian Wells Cinderella story by the name of Sorana Cirstea.
The 83rd-ranked Romanian entered this year’s draw with a 7-10 lifetime record at Indian Wells and no trips beyond the Round of 16. But she has reeled off four straight wins, topped off by an upset of No. 5 seed Caroline Garcia in the last round, to earn a shot at the toughest test in women’s tennis.
Meanwhile, Swiatek continues her bid to become to complete the first successful BNP Paribas OPen women’s singles title defense since Martina Navratilova in 1991. If anyone can handle that tall task, it is the Pole, whose relentless game has towered over the rest of the tour since she first rose to No.1 a little less than a year ago.
When Karolina Muchova took out Elena Rybakina at the 2019 US Open, the Czech was the higher-ranked player and far more experienced. It showed, as she beat out Rybakina, then 20, 6-4, 6-4 in the opening round.
This time around the tables are turned as Rybakina has been blazing a trail on tour of late, capturing the Wimbledon title last summer and backing up her newfound elite status by making a run to the Australian Open final in January.
Muchova, meanwhile, a semifinalist at the Australian Open and a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in 2021, has struggled due to injuries of late. She dropped out of the Top 200 last summer but has steadily climbed back to her current perch at 76 in the WTA rankings.
Strange as it sounds, the 26-year-old had never played the main draw at Indian Wells until this year. She has proven to be a ringer right of the bat, notching wins over Yulia Putintseva, Victoria Azarenka, Martina Trevisan and Market Vondrousova to reach the last eight.
But Muchova’s biggest test awaits. The hard-hitting Rybakina is coming into her prime and has not dropped a single set this week.
It’s all gravy for Felix Auger-Aliassime at this point at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open. The 22-year-old was nearly boxed out of the tournament on Tuesday night, but miraculously advanced, saving six match points to upend Tommy Paul in the wildest men’s match of the tournament.
He could have easily been on the next flight to Miami, but here he is angling for a breakthrough in the Coachella Valley. Auger-Aliassime’s next mission may be more difficult, even if on paper the matchup seems to favor the Canadian.
Auger-Aliassime holds a 3-0 lifetime edge over Carlos Alcaraz, but the Spaniard is the rising force in the men’s game at the moment, and he’s three victories away from reclaiming the No.1 ranking for Novak Djokovic (it would happen if he wins the title). Did we mention Alcaraz is only 19, already a Grand Slam champion, and one of the most electrifying talents in the sport?
To be fair, Auger-Aliassime deserves praise of his own. The Canadian won four ATP titles in 2022, won a total of 60 matches, and is a consistently improving talent on tour.
That said, he doesn’t have the big-stage results that Alcaraz has achieved. The teen already has two Masters 1000 titles and a Grand Slam crown to his name, and his opponent on Wednesday is still looking for that signature breakthrough.
Will it be Felix’s time to breakthrough, or will Carlos prove that he is the tour de force of generation next?
Defending champion Taylor Fritz has won 13 of his last 14 matches at Indian Wells – and nine on the trot. But he’ll have to contend with a menacing force that is as good as they come when he is firing on all cylinders on Thursday. 21-year-old Jannik Sinner hasn’t hit the level of maturity and consistency on tour that Fritz has, but when he is at his peak, he certainly has the game to ruffle the feathers of the fifth-ranked American.
Fritz dispatched the Italian easily in their lone meeting, two years ago at Indian Wells, but Sinner is evolving on tour every week, and he’s a for more threatening player than he was back then.
Their second showdown should be a great indication of how far each has come, and Fritz will have to put his experience and home-court advantage to use if he is to continue riding the hot hand in the California desert.