Sunday, October 10, 2021 - Elina Svitolina celebrates after defeating Sorana Cirstea on day 7 of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Kathryn Riley/BNP Paribas Open)
In terms of quality, the conditions and the contrast of styles made for a perfect matchup in toasty but dry weather at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Cirstea, the more aggressive of the two players with flatter, more penetrating strokes, was quick to capitalize on Svitolina’s lighter shot weight, smacking winners into the corners with ease to zip through the first set and making her first move in orchestrating an upset.
Svitolina, not one to back down from a challenge at any point in her career, reversed the momentum in the second set, tracking down each of her Romanian opponent’s strikes with grit and counterpunch herself level in the match after 93 sweltering minutes of play.
Up a break at 4-2, 15-15 in the second set Cirstea sent Svitolina, a 16-time WTA titlist, to every corner of the court, but the Ukrainian wouldn’t break. Battling her way back into the point with a combination of angled backhands, she tracked down a well-placed Cirstea drop shot and belted a passing shot winner to the delight of a bi-partisan, shade-seeking Stadium 1 crowd.
From there, the quality continued to rise. Each time the unseeded Romanian raised her level, Svitolina responded in kind until the two found themselves at a decisive tiebreak. The 2019 BNP Paribas Open semi-finalist’s steady play and greater experience winning at these bigger events ultimately made the difference, as she drew errors from Cirstea with her never-say-die attitude, winning on one final groundstroke into the net.
With husband Gael Monfils applauding his new wife’s gutsy efforts under the Southern California sun, Svitolina raised her arms in triumphs beneath it.
She lives to fight another day.
Earlier in the day, second seed Iga Swiatek is through to the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open following a superb display against No. 23 Veronika Kudermetova, advancing 6-1, 6-0 in just 55 minutes on Saturday in Indian Wells, California.
The 2020 Roland-Garros champion, still just 20 years old but playing like a veteran, was ruthless in all aspects of her game. In the ace department, she smacked five. In her service games, she won 85 percent of points. Returning the Kudermatova serve, it 25 of 43 points won.
In other words, a Swiatek win just short of a masterclass.
Kudermetova, for her part, showed flashes of the form that led her to the title at the WTA 500 event in Charleston earlier this season, belting flat forehands into the corners when she was given an opportunity (not often) and showing off a surprisingly delicate touch at the net on a few well-earned points.
Other than that, it was all World No. 4 Swiatek, who this week is ringing in the one-year anniversary of her maiden Grand Slam triumph on the hallowed crushed-brick courts at the French Open.
Though she was unable to back up her Slam success with another this season, the Polish star has shown she’s going to be around the top of the game for a while yet, claiming titles in Adelaide and Rome – WTA 500 and 1000 events respectively – and was the only WTA player to reach the second week at each Grand Slam in 2021.
At the BNP Paribas Open, she could be considered one of the highest-rated favorites to come home with the title, especially after her dominant start to the tournament. The high-bouncing, slower-paced courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden are perfectly suited to the game she honed on clay courts, so don’t be surprised if it’s Iga a week from now placing her hands on the coveted Baccarat trophy here in the Palm Desert.