Swiatek, Sakkari advance to Indian Wells final

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Iga Swiatek rallied from a break down in each set to beat Simona Halep 7-6 (6), 6-4 and reach the final of the BNP Paribas Open.

Maria Sakkari outlasted defending champion Paula Badosa 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 and will play Swiatek in the final. Swiatek is assured of reaching a new career high of either No. 2 or No. 3 in the world depending on the outcome.

Swiatek saved two set points in the first-set tiebreaker when she overcame deficits of 3-1 and 5-3. She won the final four points, with Halep committing errors on three of those points, before Swiatek cracked a forehand winner off Halep’s second serve. Halep received a racket abuse warning for smashing her racket on the court.

Swiatek took a 2-1 lead in the second set that featured five service breaks. Halep took a medical timeout and had a trainer wrap her upper left thigh.

Halep then broke Swiatek twice while taking the next three games for a 4-2 lead. But Swiatek took over from there. She won the last four games in a row, with Halep winning just four points total on her serve while getting broken twice.

“We had like the longest rallies I played here,” Swiatek said. “At the beginning I had to adjust a little bit to the new rhythm because Simona was for sure playing good than my opponents in previous rounds, and I’m pretty proud that I did that. Mentally, I was pretty strong.”

On the men’s side, Taylor Fritz defeated Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1 to reach the semifinals for the second time in five months.

The 24-year-old American is in the midst of the best stretch of his young career, and it all began in the desert in October. That’s when the tournament was held last year, pushed out of its traditional March spot because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, Fritz came into Indian Wells ranked 39th in the world. He beat top-10 players Matteo Berrettini and Alexander Zverev before losing in the semis to Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.

He’s now No. 20 – having reached a career-high 16th in February – and is 24-8 since last year’s tournament. He’s made the quarterfinals in five tournaments and reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in January at the Australian Open.

“Things are starting to come together,” he said. “I feel like my level as a player has gone up a ton.”

Fritz has recorded many milestones at Indian Wells, where he’s always a crowd favorite. He first began coming to the event as a kid, having grown up near San Diego as the son of former WTA Tour player Kathy May.

“I didn’t watch any matches,” said Fritz, who instead chased players for autographs, including Andy Murray and Bernard Tomic.

Fritz made his debut in a Masters 1000 main draw at Indian Wells and notched his first top-10 win here in 2017. His father, Guy Fritz, is a former ATP Tour pro who coaches the men’s tennis team at the nearby College of the Desert.

“It feels like a second home,” he said. “Just the energy is completely different.”

Fritz is the first American to reach consecutive semifinals at Indian Wells since Andy Roddick in 2009-10. The last American to win the tournament was Andre Agassi in 2001; Fritz was 3 years old at the time.

“There’s no place I’d rather have these results than here,” Fritz said.

After he and Kecmanovic split sets, Fritz dominated the third. He raced to a 5-0 lead before the Serb held. Fritz then served a love game to close out the match.

Fritz next plays No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who beat Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 7-5 6-2.

Rublev has won 13 consecutive matches and is coming off back-to-back titles in Marseille and Dubai. He never trailed against Dimitrov and dropped serve just once in the 1 1/2-hour match that paired former world No 1 junior players.

Rublev has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

“I’m really motivated to be a better player,” he said. “It’s like sometimes I cannot wait to go to play next tournament, you know?”

Saturday’s other semifinal pits Rafael Nadal against 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in an all-Spanish matchup. Nadal is 19-0 this year.

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.