Indian Wells – WTA semifinals preview

Sharapova will play on Stadium 1, vs. Wozniacki, not before 8 p.m.; she has a 3-3 record vs. no.1

Photo: Yahoo! Sports

I spent a relatively long time trying to start this one without clichés. You then tell me if I was successful or not.

So here we are, after ten days of the highest (or maybe not) tennis of the first Premier Mandatory (ie: In case you don’t know, the most important non-Slams tournaments of the WTA, accounting for four events) of 2011 and, if on one hand we have two surprises, on the other we have absolutely no surprises, and on a third hand (wtf), a half-surprise.

Many favorites crashed in the course of the previous five games, and the ever constant Caroline Wozniacki is the only top-10 to make it all the way through the final four, even though Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli are both former top-10; hence, Yanina Wickmayer is the only of the four semifinalists yet to be ranked at least for one week as one of the 10 best female tennis players.

Where do I start? Ok, Wickmayer. The 21-year old Lier born reaches her second semifinal this year – twice the number she had last year, when her only final four was at Auckland, en route to her 3rd title – after a win over Peng Shuai in New Zealand, to reach for the 2nd consecutive year the final in Auckland. Wickmayer also set a new personal best at Indian Wells – in her 3rd appearance, surpassing the R16 of 2010. The lower ranked (no.25) and the player with less titles (3) among the four remaining, Yanina had his path eased by 3rd seed Vera Zvonareva early loss to Dominika Cibulkova. Nevertheless, in all her previous four matches, she dropped only one set – to Kaia Kanepi in the third round. Aside from the Estonian who led her 4-1 in the H2H prior to that match, Wickmayer had wins against Oudin (debut, 6/3, 6/4), Dominika Cibulkova (#25; 7/5, 7/5 in the 4th round) and, to reach the semifinals, bounced 10th seed Shahar Peer in straight sets.

This Indian Wells’ semifinal is her first at Premier Mandatory tournaments. Wickmayer also tries to put the Belgian flag in the Indian Wells’ final for the 5th time (2001/03/04/05), and for the second time in a Mandatory final – after Kim Clijsters, who made it all the way to title at Miami last year (defeated Venus Williams). If she defeats Bartoli for the first time on her career, will play her 7th final – 4th on Hard (3-3 record).

Wickmayer’s opponent will be… I could totally say this was a ‘guess game’, but since you’re here, you know what’s going on in California. So, ok, will go straight to it. Her opponent will be the peculiar, both-sides two-handed, 26-year old, 11 as a pro, fighting from Geneva, Schweiz, a five-time WTA-champion, and runner-up at Wimbledon 2007, Marion Bartoli (Now picture the UFC announcer saying that line). You surprised? Indeed, Bartoli is having a great start of year – reached two other semifinals, losing both, at Hobart to Petkovic and to eventual champion Wozniacki at Doha – but if I had some spare coins to bet, in a quarter that had Kim Clijsters, Ana Ivanovic and the defending champion Jankovic, I wouldn’t put them on Bartoli – who lost her last five semifinals – and for this I apologize with her fans. And in the future, no-one will remember Kim lost to her shoulder in the start of the 2nd set (causing her to retire), handing Marion the win. Ok, die-hard tennis fans will, but it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter in the same way Ivanovic and Jankovic killed each other in the 4th round. What matter is, Bartoli defeated two former no.1s to reach her 3rd lifetime Mandatory semifinal (l. to the older Radwanska at Beijing-09 and to Venus at Miami-10).

Aside from Ivanovic and Clijsters in straight rounds, Bartoli got through Andrea Petkovic in the 3rd round and suffered to defeat Romanian Monica Niculescu in three sets, after losing the first, in her 2nd round opener. Bartoli can join Aravane Rezai as the only French women to reach a Mandatory final – Rezai did it in Madrid last year, and ended up clinching the title – this Indian Wells final would be her 12th (5-6 record), 9th on Hard (5-4 record), and she would be the first player from France to play the final there.

Head-to-head: Marion Bartoli 2-0 Yanina Wickmayer

– Bartoli is the first French Wickmayer will play this year, and the first since Pauline Parmentier (2nd round of Torhout-ITF, won 7/6, 7/6), and the first at WTA level since Bartoli herself in Tokyo opener – she fell 4/6, 4/6. 2010: 1-3 vs. FRA (lost another to Bartoli, defeated Rezai at Rome).

– As for Bartoli, Yanina is her first opponent from Belgium since herself in Tokyo; Last year: 2-0 against Belgium, both matches were against Wickmayer.

They played twice, both on hard and in 2010: Miami quarterfinals (6/4, 7/5) and Tokyo first round (6/4, 6/4).

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Upper half, where the stars are – at least in this semifinals. Even though I *slightly* disagree, a sure thing is the semifinal between Wozniacki and Sharapova will draw way lot more attention than the one between Bartoli-Wickmayer. Okay, I don’t make the rules. So, Wozniacki is doing her thing – reached her 4th straight semifinal this year, and will try her 3rd straight final; Caro also reached her 9th semifinal in the last 10 events, and she made the finals in 7 of them. Wozniacki also playing for another place in history: she can be only the sixth woman to reach Indian Wells final for two consecutive years, after Navratilova (90/91), Coetzer (93/94), Davenport (97/98, 03/04/05), Kuznetsova (07/08) and Ivanovic (08/09) – from all these, only Coetzer, Davenport (in the three-peat) and Kuznetsova were runners-up in the previous year. Wozniacki also reached her 4th Mandatory final, and she won all thus far (Madrid-09, Indian Wells and Beijing last year). Caro is the player with most finals (3) at this level of tournaments, and aims to be the first to win more than once.

En route to this semi, Caro kept strong, as usual: gave no chance for American prospect Sloane Stephens, broke a three-lose streak to record her first win vs. Martinez Sanchez, dropped a set – her only thus far – to defeat Kleybanova and reach the quarterfinals, and then counted with a retirement – from Azarenka, who didn’t faint this time – to reach the final four. Caro needs one more win to tie her best Indian Wells result – accomplished last year, as you know – and reach her 23rd WTA final. A curiosity: her current 22 finals ties Sharapova’s titles.

Maria Sharapova. Well-known face, winner tennis player, a beautiful model and… we don’t know what to expect from her since her ’09 return. Able to sometimes put on great runs and challenge the top player and, in the next week, lose to a Wildcard, at least this week, Sharapova had the results her many fans expect, and reached her 4th Indian Wells semifinal (05/06/08). If she beats Wozniacki for a third time, will play her 34th final (22-11 record) and as a reward will return to top-10, in the place of the Israeli Shahar Peer. Sharapova can also take Russian to Indian Wells final for a 5th time (2 titles, w/ herself in ’06 and Zvonareva in ’09 and three R-Ups: Dementieva in 2006, Kuznetsova in ’07 and ’08); this is her first Mandatory semifinal, and she can be the 5th Russian to play one of the finals; Russia has won Premier Mandatory tournaments for a record 3 times – no other nation won more than once (Belgium, Belarus, Denmark, Serbia).

Sharapova didn’t have the strongest run out there, but managed to survive to Medina Garrigues in three, then a 2&2 win over Rezai in the third round, a cakewalk over Dinara Safina and another tight, three set win, this over Peng Shuai – Sharapova had double-figures in DFs yesterday. We can say Sharapova is on a streak just like Bartoli’s – but backwards: Masha won her last 7 semifinals, including five last year (won only two titles, btw) and two in 2009; last player to defeat her is Flavia Pennetta – to whom she fell at Los Angeles; that’s her first semifinal in 2011, extending up to three the number of consecutive semifinals played in the United States.

Head to Head: Maria Sharapova 2-1 Caroline Wozniacki

– Caroline Wozniacki is the only Danish player Sharapova EVER played; however, she is 3-3 when playing the current no.1 – last time she played one, lost to Justine Henin in the final of the Masters, in 2007.

– Wozniacki leads Russians by 3-1 this year; last Russian player not called Zvonareva to defeat her was Elena Dementieva, at Cincinnati-2009. She’s also 1-0 vs. former no.1 this year (d. Jankovic, Doha semifinal); she’s 2-7 vs. former no.1 since 2009.

Meetings:

’08 Doha Quarterfinals – Sharapova, 6/0, 6/1

’08 Rome R16 – Sharapova, 6/4, 7/6 (3)

’10 US Open R16 – Wozniacki, 6/3, 6/4.

Schedule:

Bartoli – Wickmayer play first, not before 1 p.m.; Sharapova and Wozniacki will feature the night session, starting not before 8 p.m., after Federer/Wawrinka vs. Nadal/M. Lopez doubles semifinal – all to be played on the Stadium 1.

About Pete S. Liguori
Pete was born in São Paulo, Brasil. Loves sports - pigskin fanatic, tennis lover. One of his most famous quotes is "I'm no Tolstoi, but I love the Dallas Cowboys" His favorite quote of all time is "I'll keep playing", unknown author.

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