Tennis fans in the Southern California desert got their first taste of the tournament’s top seeds, with second-round action getting underway at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. A delectable order of play featured match-ups from the bottom half of the women’s draw, though no one had an easy task ahead of them on a temperate day in Tennis Paradise.
Here’s a look at the top second-round performances by WTA Tour stars on Friday at the BNP Paribas Open:
Who saw that one coming?
Aliaksandra Sasnovich fans might have. The easy-going Belarusian could be guilty of underachieving at times in her career, but always rises to a challenge – and challenges don’t come much better than the reigning US Open champion.
Emma Raducanu (said champion) had every season to be confident going into the match, having not dropped a single set in her last 10 matches, nevertheless doing so on the biggest stage in tennis. However, winning a big title and backing it up are two different things – just ask Bianca Andreescu – and the 18-year-old ingenue-turned-superstar would be forgiven if she was quietly feeling the pressure coming into her BNP Paribas Open opener.
The Briton started off with an emphatic hold to love on her own serve, bouncing around between points and radiating confidence. Even on return, she threatened to make her mark early on Sasnovich second serves, though the World No. 100 hung tough under the pressure of the first two games and quickly reversed her fortunes with a break to love in the third game.
From there, Raducanu appeared nervous. Less confident. Body language stagnant. Though she found more rhythm in the second set with some signature changes in direction, her serve was a liability against a confident Sasnovich, who, for her part, was playing at a high level from start to finish. Very much the veteran in the matchup at 27 years old, she played like one; pummelling the marginally weaker Raducanu forehand with tactical efficiency and hitting her backhand out of the sweet spot of her racquet. The power – and poise – belonged to Sasnovich on the night and she was rewarded with the win.
Raducanu, who has barely played at the top level of the game outside of her two remarkable Grand Slam runs this season, still has plenty of time to prove she’s the real deal (not that she even has to) and lay the foundation for what is sure to be a long and prosperous career ahead of her.
It’s been almost eight years since 2015 BNP Paribas Open champion Simona Halep wasn’t a member of the WTA’s Top 10.
Cracking the career milestone after reaching her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at the 2014 Australian Open, the 5-foot-6 Romanian has been synonymous with the top of the women’s game. After a fluke calf injury derailed not only her Roland Garros campaign but also her Wimbledon title defense, Halep dropped to her lowest ranking since 2013.
Making her comeback at the National Bank Open in Montreal, she lost a hard-fought and high-quality match against Danielle Collins, claiming after that she was surprised at her own level – and it hasn’t taken her much time to get back into her world-beating rhythm. Following a fourth-round finish at the US Open, she’s back at the site of one of her biggest triumphs, playing tennis that looks like she could content for the title once again.
World No. 58 Marta Kostyuk played Halep hard in the first set of their second-round BNP Paribas Open encounter, but the Constanta native quickly recovered from her sluggish start, hanging tough until the first-set tiebreak before flying through it with the rhythmic baseline tennis that saw her reach the summit of the WTA Rankings.
The second set was a simpler affair, with Kostyuk running out of gas as Halep went into cruise control, threading running backhands down the line and serving with pin-point precision.
“It means a lot to play tennis at this level this year,” said Halep in her on-court interview, her first as a married woman following her wedding a few weeks ago. “My attutide was not great,” she admitted with a smile, “But I’ll keep working!”
Is 2020 Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek a title contender this year in Indian Wells? If her affinity for the slow, high-bouncing hard courts at this tournament was in question, it shouldn’t be anymore.
The second-seeded Pole made the most of her heavy topspin forehand to move second-round opponent Petra Martic around the court with ease, belting cannonball backhands into all the corners and beating the Croat at her own spin game.
Winning 79 per cent of first-serve points, Swiatek never struggled to dictate play and, when she was on the back foot, it was curved, Rafael Nadal-esque forehands that would turn the points in her favour, ultimately claiming the 6-1, 6-3 win to reach the third round.