The unbelievable depth of the women’s tour is maybe one of the best worst-kept secrets in sport these days. Not only is the breadth of champions at the top events massive, but each player’s successes push their cohorts in dig deeper and deeper into what they can do to improve and add their names to the list of WTA Tour’s champions.
On Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open, the women’s quarterfinal line-up features players you might not have heard of before but who have everything it takes to deliver the top-quality tennis that fans have come to expect at the picturesque desert tennis oasis nestled in the heart of the Coachella Valley.
Thursday’s first quarterfinal features two Top 20 players on a quest for history for their respective nations.
Anett Kontaveit, a steady but dangerous player who no one wants to see early in their draws at the biggest events, is looking to become the first Estonian woman to crack the Top 10 if she manages to get her hands on the BNP Paribas Open’s famous(ly heavy) crystal trophy in a few days time. She’s already one of just two players from her nation to have cracked the Top 20 –alongside veteran Kaia Kanepi – and will also be looking for a career best result at an event of this size.
Standing in her way is the human highlight reel, Ons Jabeur. The Tunisian has already broken down barriers for Arab women in sport, making history as the first Arab woman to win a WTA title earlier this year in Birmingham. It’s a career best year for 27-year-old, who has always had the talent to compete for the sport’s top prizes but at times lacked the discipline needed to reach the summit of a competitive-as-ever WTA Tour.
The two have faced three times in their career, but only twice at the WTA level, both matches of which went the way of Jabeur. Kontaveit has had an up-and-down 2021 campaign, but in recent weeks has been at her absolute best, having won 16 of her last 17 matches in a run which has included the WTA 500 title in Ostrava and the WTA 250 in Cleveland.
Expect Jabeur to bring all the shots in her arsenal to their fourth career encounter. She’s one of the best drop-shotters on tour and can inject pace into her strokes in the blink of an eye. Kontaveit will play a more measured game, but her top-spin laden forehands will kick up nice and high, which could trouble Jabeur as she goes for flatter, more explosive winners.
Either of these players could be holding the trophy – and reaching their historic milestones – in four day’s time, so this match is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Paula Badosa may not be a household name, but anyone paying attention wouldn’t be surprised seeing her at this stage of a big tournament. The former junior stand-out made an admittedly slower transition onto the pro circuit, but since discovering the confidence and mentality to compliment her heavy-hitting ground game, she’s been on an absolute tear.
Angelique Kerber, on the other hand, is rediscovering the form that brought her to three Grand Slam titles and World No. 1. Galvanized by a run to the title in her home tournament of Bad Gastien earlier this year, she consolidated her grass-court form by a run to the Wimbledon semi-finals, playing eventual champion and World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty tough but succumbing in a high-quality two-setter.
It’s a classic battle between newcomer and veteran, but this first-time clash has the makings of a brilliant night-session match-up. Kerber’s defensive lefty game always matches up well against aggressive baseliners and whether she wins or loses manages to put on a show. Badosa, for her part, has a high compete level, grinding through some of the season’s longest matches and coming out on top.
Will the Spaniard be able to target the Kerber backhand with her heavy topspin shots and edge out the win? Or will the 2019 BNP Paribas Open finalist counterpunch her opponent into submission?
Both are possible, but only one can win.