Maria Sakkari ended Paula Badosa’s bid for a repeat title at the Indian Wells Masters on Friday, beating the defending champion to set up a final clash with former French Open winner Iga Swiatek.
Greece’s Sakkari triumphed 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 to end Badosa’s bid to become the first woman since Martina Navratilova in 1990-91 to win back-to-back Indian Wells titles.
Poland’s Swiatek beat two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep 7-6(6), 6-4.
Ranked fourth in the world, Swiatek is already assured of rising to a career-high third in the world. Either she or sixth-ranked Sakkari can claim the No 2 spot with a victory in Sunday’s title match.
“Really it’s over my expectations,” said Swiatek, who said she came into the prestigious event in the California desert doubtful she could follow up her fourth career title in Doha with another deep tournament run.
But she rallied from a break down in each set and saved two set points in the first-set tiebreaker to notch a 10th straight WTA match win.
“It was really intense,” Swiatek said, “really physical. I think we had the longest rallies I played here.”
The 20-year-old evened her head-to-head record against Halep at two wins apiece, but she admitted it required a change in mindset taking on a player who was once ranked so much higher than herself.
“I had to fight to the end and be mentally stronger,” she said. “Simona is a really strong player mentally and she’s not giving up so I wanted to do that better.”
Halep, who lifted the Indian Wells trophy in 2015, couldn’t get back to the final but ended another strong week as she returns from a 2021 season marred by calf and knee injuries.
Halep gained a 5-4 lead with her second break of the opening set, but she couldn’t close it out in the next game and they went to the tiebreaker.
The Romanian again had the upper hand in the tiebreaker, but at 6-4 she fired a backhand long and Swiatek won the next three points – saving a set point with a deep backhand volley then clinching the set with a blistering return of a Halep second serve.
A frustrated Halep was warned after thumping her racquet down in disgust and Swiatek, her confidence bolstered, broke Halep for a 2-1 lead in the second.
But the set unfolded much like the first.
After having her left thigh taped by the trainer, Halep reclaimed the break and grabbed another to move ahead 4-2 on a pair of forehand errors from Swiatek.
But once again the Romanian couldn’t maintain the advantage and Swiatek won four straight games to seal the win.
Sakkari goes into the final buoyed by the knowledge that she has won three of four prior encounters against Swiatek.
The Greek player shook off an opening break of her serve to win six of seven games on the way to pocketing the first set, breaking Badosa twice as the Spaniard struggled with her serve.
Badosa battled back in the second, breaking Sakkari twice on the way to a 3-2 lead and hanging on to force a third set, in which Sakkari’s aggression and power were too much for the Spaniard.
“I was very concerned before the match because Paula is playing very different to the other girls,” said Sakkari, whose only prior title was on clay in Rabat in 2019. “She has a very heavy game and she obviously loves this tournament.
“I just had full faith and I believe in myself every single moment,” she added, fighting back tears. “I’m just speechless right now.”