Serena Williams vs Simona Halep, Indian Wells SF Preview

Indian Wells SF #1 (1) Serena Williams vs (3) Simona Halep

Serena Williams and Simona Halep will renew hostilities on Friday at the BNP Paribas Open in a blockbuster semifinal matchup between the two top players so far in season 2015. This will be Serena Williams’ biggest test in her much anticipated return to the Californian desert, the world number 1 will need to significantly raise her level if she is to stop the rampaging Romanian.

Serena Williams became the first American to reach the semi-finals in Indian Wells since Lindsay Davenport all the way in 2005 with a hard fought 7-5 6-3 victory over Timea Bacsinszky. Serena was wayward early in the match but eventually cracked her opponent late in each set, her firepower too much for a crafty Bacsinszky to handle, ending Timea’s 15 match winning streak. Serena has admittedly not been at her best this week, however she has done just enough to get herself over the line, as she often does.

 

Serena has been slow out of the blocks in all four of her matches this week, a re-emerging theme throughout almost all of her matches this year. Serena cannot afford a similar slow start on friday when she comes up against an already confident Simona Halep. Serena knows better than anyone what Simona is capable of, the American was crushed by Simona in Singapore late last year. Serena says she has been looking forward to this matchup ever since this the draw came out and will undoubtedly step up her intensity in preparation for a high quality battle.

Given the recent tragic circumstances in Simona Halep's private life, the Romanian has fought courageously hard this week to reach the semifinal stage at the BNP Paribas Open for the second year in a row. Simona has gradually improved this week and looks ready to give the world number 1 a run for her money on Friday evening.

 

Simona Haled laboured through her first up victory over Daria Gavrilova before producing much improved performances to record victories over Varvara Lepchenko and Karolina Pliskova. The Romanian advanced to the semifinals courtesy of a 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory over Carla Suarez Navarro.

Simona made an uncharacteristically poor start in her quarterfinal victory, hitting a whopping 26 unforced errors in the first. However the Romanian found her range in the second set, substantially cutting down her errors and forcing her opponent to make a lot more mistakes with some stunning movement on the baseline. Simona will enter her semifinal matchup with Serena Williams with absolutely nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Serena Williams has a 4-1 head to head record over Simona Halep. The two traded victories at last years WTA Finals in Singapore, Simona famously thumped Serena 6-0 6-2 at the round robin stage, handing the world number 1 her worst loss since she was just 16 years of age. Serena avenged that loss with a comprehensive 6-3 6-0 victory in the final as she claimed her fifth Season Ending Championship.

I’m going to side with Simona Halep on this occasion. Given Serena has been far from her best so far in the Californian desert, there is real reason to believe that Simona Halep was a real chance to cause another upset victory over the world number 1.

Serena hasn’t served well at all this week, the American’s serve has been consistently broken as she has failed to win as many free points as she usually would. Given Simona Halep is one of, if not the best returner in the game, Serena will need to serve much better on Friday.

The conditions in California suit the Romanian and will give her an extra edge in this matchup. Simona is playing with so much confidence at the moment, she will not be daunted by the occasion and will be very confident coming into this match given her stunning victory over the world number 1 in Singapore late last year. It won’t be easy, but I think Simona will get the job done.

Prediction: Simona Halep to defeat Serena Williams in 3 sets

Serena Williams vs Timea Bacsinszky, Indian Wells QF Preview

Indian Wells QF: (1) Serena Williams vs (27) Timea Bacsinszky

Two of the form players on the WTA Tour will go head to head on Wednesday night in the second quarterfinal at the BNP Paribas Open. Timea Bacsinszky is currently on a 15 match winning streak including titles in Monterrey and Acapulco whilst Serena Williams in on a 13 match winning streak, including titles in Singapore and Melbourne. This will be by far the biggest test Timea has faced all year, it will be interesting to see where she’s really at when she comes up against the all conquering world number 1.

Serena Williams has gradually improved this week in her much anticipated return to the Californian desert. After struggling throughout her 7-5 7-5 victory over Monica Niculescu, Serena totally outplayed Zarina Diyas in a 6-2 6-0 rout. Serena reached the quarter-finals with an extremely hard fought 6-7 6-2 6-2 victory over compatriot, Sloane Stephens.

Serena was frustrated by Sloane Stephens in the first set, the young American causing Serena to hit a large number of errors which ultimately cost the world number one the opening set. Serena was able to turn things around in the second set, better serving and point construction changing the course of the match. Serena ran away with the match in the deciding set, untroubled in her service games.

 

Timea Bacsinszky’s fairy tale winning run has continued in Indian Wells. Timea has come from a set down in all 3 of her matches this week, a determined fighting spirit that has regularly been on display throughout her matches in the last month. The Swiss number 1 has come from a set down in 5 of her last 8 matches.

Bacsinszky advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-6 6-1 6-1 victory over Elina Svitolina. Timea was outplayed in the opening set as Elina dictated play from the baseline. The second set saw a massive momentum shift, Timea started serving better and put more pressure on her younger opponent. Svitolina was not up for the fight, her level dropped dramatically as Bacsinszky cruised to her 15th straight victory.

 

Serena Williams defeated Timea Bacsinszky 7-6 6-1 in their only previous meeting in Rome back in 2010. This will therefore be the first career meeting between the pair on a hard court.

Timea just keeps winning, however It’s highly likely her run will come to a crashing end on Wednesday night when she comes up against an opponent that is way out of her league. Serena does everything better than Timea, the world number 1 will dictate rallies and should dominate Timea from the baseline and will likely win this match pretty comfortably.

Prediction: Serena Williams to defeat Timea Bacsinszky in 2 sets

Maria Sharapova vs Flavia Pennetta, Indian Wells R4 Preview

Indian Wells R4: (2) Maria Sharapova vs (15) Flavia Pennetta

Flavia’s Pennetta’s title defense will come under threat on Tuesday afternoon when she comes up against second seed, Maria Sharapova at the BNP Paribas Open. Flavia has kicked of her title defense in style with two commanding victories but will face a much tougher test when she comes up against an in form Maria Sharapova.

After defeating Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets in the second round, Maria reached the fourth round with a commanding 6-4 6-3 victory over arch rival, Victoria Azarenka. The difference in the end was Maria’s ability to sustain a high intensity for the whole match, whilst Azarenka was not quite ready to compete at such a high level.

 

Sharapova’s serve was wayward in the opening set, hitting five double faults in one game to hand Azarenka the first break of the match. Sharapova rallied to win 3 straight games and claim an extremely hard fought opening set. Azarenka seemed to lose her concentration in the second set and Sharapova capitalised to take a 5-1 lead. The Russian had trouble closing out the match as Vika played some unbelievable tennis, but eventually Maria got the job done on her sixth match point.

Despite making a poor start to the season, Flavia Pennetta has looked very confident in her title defense at the BNP Paribas Open. Flavia kick-started her campaign with a comprehensive straight set victory over Madison Brengle before keeping her perfect record over Sam Stosur alive with a an impressive 6-4 6-2 victory.

 

The head to head record between Flavia and Maria is split at 2 wins apiece. Flavia Pennetta has won their two most recent encounters, however the two hasn’t played since 2011 so their head to head record is somewhat irrelevant. Flavia shocked Maria third round of the 2011 US Open with a 6-3 3-6 6-4 victory in their most recent meeting.

Sharapova has been in ominous form this year, it will take an almighty performance by the Italian to cause what would be a major upset despite the head to head record. I expect this to be a highly competitive match, Pennetta may even take a set off Maria but ultimately Maria should prevail.

Prediction: Maria Sharapova to defeat Flavia Pennetta in 3 sets

Elina Svitolina vs Timea Bacsinszky, Indian Wells R4 Preview

Indian Wells R4: (23) Elina Svitolina vs (27) Timea Bacsinszky

A rare opportunity to reach the quarter-finals of a premier mandatory event presents itself to Elina Svitolina and Timea Bacsinszky on Tuesday at the BNP Paribas Open. Both ladies produced upset victories in the third round to advance to the fourth round, leaving the draw upon for one these two competitors to make a rare deep run at a premier mandatory event.

Timea Bacsinszky stunning run has continued in the Californian desert, after winning back to back titles in Mexico, Timea has extended her winning streak to 14 matches. Timea reached the fourth round with a stunning 3-6 7-5 6-4 come from behind victory over Ekaterina Makarova.

Bacsinszky looked down and out several times during the match. Timea found herself down a double break in the final set but rallied to win 5 of the last 6 times in the match. The comeback was largely due to Makarova throwing the match away with a very high number of unforced errors rather than Bacsinszky playing incredible tennis.

 

After a hard fought come from behind victory over Alison Van Uytvanck in the second round, Elina Svitolina advanced to the fourth round courtesy of an impressive 7-6 7-5 victory over Lucie Safarova. Svitolina’s victory over the in from Czech was the biggest victory of the year for the Ukrainian and one of the best of her career thus far.

Svitolina played a very solid match, forcing Safarova to hit a high number of errors. Elina played well at the later end of each set, showing maturity beyond her years to comfortably close out the match against a quality opponent.

 

This will be the first career meeting between Elina and Timea. An interesting matchup between two solid baseline players. Both ladies pride themselves on giving very little away, a very physical match is to be expected.

Given the extraordinary amount of tennis Timea has played over the last month, Elina Svitolina has to be the favourite heading into this match. Six out of Timea’s last seven victories have gone the distance, including two tough three set victories this week.

There is no doubt that Svitolina will be up for this match, the Ukrainian will be ready to run every single ball down and will give Timea very little free points. I don’t think Timea has it in her to hit through Svitolina often enough to keep her winning streak going.

Prediction: Elina Svitolina to defeat Timea Bacsinszky in 2 sets

Simona Halep vs Karolina Pliskova, Indian Wells R4 Preview

Indian Wells R4: (3) Simona Halep vs (14) Karolina Pliksova

The pick of the fourth round matches at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open sees third seed Simona Halep take on the rapidly improving Karolina Pliskova. These two met just a couple of weeks ago in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final, Simona Halep triumphing in two tight sets. Karolina will look to avenge that loss on Tuesday in what promises to be a high quality encounter between two of the tours most in form players.

Simona Halep advanced to the fourth round courtesy of an extremely hard fought 6-1 3-6 6-1 victory over Varvara Lepchenko. The match was very physical, both ladies pushing eachother to their limits. Halep ultimately outlasted Lepchenko, raising her level at the business end of the match to book her place in round of 16 in the Californian Desert.

 

Simona took a medical timeout after the second set, her left ankle was examined and taped. The Romanian’s movement didn’t seem to be hindered in the final set as she hunted down every single ball, forcing Lepchenko to hit a high number of errors. Simona’s effort this week has been admirable given the tragic circumstances surrounding the passing of her cousin.

Karolina Pliskova produced her second straight victory over Garbine Muguruza to advance to the fourth round at the BNP Paribas Open. Much like their recent encounter in Dubai, it was Pliskova who made the most of her opportunities and played better under pressure.

Garbine was the better player for much of the opening set, easily holding serve and creating opportunities to break. However it was Pliskova who took her first break point opportunity in the eleventh game, before confidently serving out the opening set.

A wayward service from Garbine handed Pliskova the ascendancy early in the second set and Pliskova never looked back. The Czech confidently served out the match to love, continuing her incredible start to the season. Pliskova doesn’t seem to feel pressure, an invaluable trait so early in her career.

Simona Halep won the first and only meeting between the pair just a couple of weeks ago in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Championships. Simona twice failed to serve out the match in the second set but eventually prevailed 6-4 7-6 to claim her second title of the year.

It must be noted that Pliskova was certainly not at her best during the final and will be much fresher coming into this match. This match ultimately depends on how well Pliskova plays, I have no doubt that her best tennis will get the job done.

I think Karolina will have the edge against Halep on this occasion. Karolina didn’t serve particularly well in the Dubai final, a better serving performance this time around and she will be very difficult to defeat.

Prediction: Karolina Pliskova to defeat Simona Halep in 3 sets

Flavia Pennetta vs Sam Stosur, Indian Wells R3 Preview

Indian Wells R3: (15) Flavia Pennetta vs (21) Sam Stosur 

Flavia Pennetta’s title defence continues on Monday when she comes up against Sam Stosur in the third round at the BNP Paribas Open. This is one of the most peculiar head to heads going around, Flavia holds a perfect 5-0 record over Sam. The Aussie will desperate to finally pick up her first career victory over the Italian.

Flavia Pennetta’s stunning run in the Californian desert was one of the fairytale stories of season 2014, the Italian defeating Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska on route to the biggest title of her career. Flavia kick-started her title defence with a comprehensive 6-4 6-2 victory over Madison Brengle.

Pennetta played an extremely clean match. The Italian hit 27 winners and just 17 unforced errors, outclassing Brengle in a comprehensive victory. Pennetta didn't seem nervous despite defending such a high percentage of her points this week, a good sign moving forward.

 

Sam Stosur overcame a potentially tricky opening round match, defeating Taylor Townsend 6-4 6-2 to set up a third round clash with the defending champion. Stosur has made a very disappointing start to the season, the Aussie is still yet to win consecutive matches in season. Flavia Pennetta is also yet to win consecutive matches this season, making this encounter critical for both ladies.

Flavia Pennetta has a perfect 5-0 head to head record over Stosur. Their last meeting took place at Indian Wells last year, Pennetta prevailing 6-4 3-6 6-1. It is strange that Stosur has never beaten Flavia, on paper this looks like a 50/50 matchup.

The conditions in Indian Wells don’t really suit Sam, whilst Flavia has shown that she is able to adapt better to the conditions. I’m leaning towards Flavia to continue her dominance over Stosur.

Prediction: Flavia Pennetta to defeat Sam Stosur in 3 sets

Caroline Wozniacki vs Belinda Bencic, Indian Wells R3 Preview

Indian Wells R3: (4) Caroline Wozniacki vs (31) Belinda Bencic

Belinda Bencic will get a shot at redemption on Monday when she comes up against Caroline Wozniacki in the third round at the BNP Paribas Open. In their first and only meeting last year in Istanbul, Wozniacki crushed Bencic 6-0 6-0. Bencic will be desperate to avenge that embarrassing loss with a much better performance this time around.

Caroline Wozniacki arrived in Indian Wells on a high after claiming her first title of the season in Kuala Lumpur last week. The Dane advanced to the third round courtesy of an extremely hard fought 7-6 6-4 over Ons Jabeur. Caroline had zero break point opportunities in the opening set, however her superior experience certainly helped her out in the critical first set tiebreaker.

 

Wozniacki created a lot more chances in the second set but was unable to convert, winning just 2 of 12 break point opportunities. However it was enough for Wozniacki to sneak through to the third round in the Californian desert. The Dane has a lot to working on moving forward this week.

Belinda Bencic has made a horrible start to the season, winning just two matches so far in six tournaments. One of those victories came on Saturday when the youngster outclassed Bojana Jovanovski, claiming a relatively straightforward 6-2 7-6 victory.

Bencic can completely turn her season around with a strong performance this week, an upset victory over Caroline Wozniacki will give her a much needed confidence boost.

 

Caroline Wozniacki absolutely blitzed Bencic in their first and only previous meeting in Istanbul last year. Wozniacki needed just 44 minutes to brush aside Bencic.

Given Bencic’s lacklustre results this year, it’s almost impossible to see Bencic causing a major upset. Wozniacki has been solid this year, defeating opponents that she should be beating. I expect that trend to continue on Monday, everything points to another Wozniacki victory.

Prediction: Caroline Wozniacki to defeat Belinda Bencic in 2 sets

Victoria Azarenka vs Maria Sharapova, Indian Wells R3 Preview

Indian Wells R3: (32) Victoria Azarenka vs (2) Maria Sharapova

The pick of the third round matches at the BNP Paribas Open sees Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova renew hostilities in what is arguably the best rivalry on the WTA tour. This is by far the most anticipated match of the tournament thus far, it will be the first meeting between these two fierce rivals in almost two years.

Vika has made a solid start to the season, her level is gradually climbing. The Belarusian arrived in California on the back of an impressive run to the final in Doha, her best result since returning from injury. The former Indian Wells champion enjoys the conditions in the desert and will relish the opportunity to get a crack at Maria Sharapova, an opponent she has a great record against (on hard courts).

 

Azarenka advanced to the second round with a relatively straightforward 6-2 6-4 victory over good friend, Kirsten Flipkens. Vika dominated the opening set but found herself down an early break in the second set, the Belarusian was up for the fight and raised her level towards the end of the set, comfortably closing out the match in straight sets.

Maria Sharapova made a solid start to her Indian Wells campaign, defeating Yanina Wickmayer 6-1 7-5. Sharapova was dominant in the opening set but had trouble closing out the match. The world number 2 needed 6 match points to finally set up a third round clash with Vika.

Sharapova served particularly well throughout her victory over Wickmayer. The Russian holding serve in all 9 of her service games, saving the one and only break point she faced.

Vika has a 7-6 head to head record over Sharapova, but more importantly the Belarusian has won 6 of their last 7 matches on a hard court, a pretty impressive statistic. However, it is Sharapova who has emerged triumphant in their two most recent encounters. Sharapova beat Azarenka 6-1 2-6 6-4 in the semifinals at Roland Garros in their most recent match.

Azarenka seems to have an edge against Sharapova on a hard court, the Belarusian can absorb Maria’s pace and is able ware Maria down. Sharapova has often seemed to lack a plan B against Vika, often going for too much and hitting too many unforced errors.

 

What makes this rivalry great is that these two genuinely don’t like each other. There have been a few infamous incidents between these two including a collision during a change of ends in the Stuttgart final, Sharapova then went on to make a sly remark in her post match interview, implying that Azarenka was over exaggerating an injury.

The conditions in the Californian desert suit Vika, I think she is extremely close to her best and is ready to take the next step, starting with a victory over Sharapova on Monday.

Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to defeat Maria Sharapova in 3 sets

Serena Williams vs Zarina Diyas, Indian Wells R3 Preview

Indian Wells R3: (1) Serena Williams vs (28) Zarina Diyas

Serena Williams’ Indian Wells comeback continues on Sunday afternoon when she will come up against Kazakh, Zarina Diyas in the third round. Serena made history on Friday night by returning to the Californian desert for the first time in 14 years. The world number 1 made an understandably nervy start to her campaign and will want a much stronger performance against Zarina on Monday.

 

Serena was welcomed back to Stadium 1 with a standing ovation from the near capacity crowd, a historic moment in the history of the WTA. Serena was far from her best but managed to overcome Monica Niculescu 7-5 7-5. Serena made a slow start and struggled to find any rhythm in her first match in over a month and her first career meeting with the most unorthodox player on tour.

Serena’s footwork was pretty poor throughout the match, her decision making was also questionable. Despite just hitting 1 winner (a slice forehand) Niculescu served for the first set at 5-4 and was extremely close to closing it out. However Serena did what she had to do, raising her level when it really mattered to ensure she closed out the match in straight sets.

Zarina Diyas also overcame a slow start to advance to the third round at the BNP Paribas Open. Diyas found herself down a double break in the opening set but regrouped to defeat Donna Vekic 6-3 6-3. Diyas is a solid youngster who continues to rise up the rankings, however she hasn’t fared well against the worlds very best.

Zarina has really struggled against top 10 opponents, suffering straight set losses to Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber and Ekaterina Makarova in the past 12 months. The next step for Zarina will be to start competing better with these high quality opponents, otherwise her ranking will plateau.

 

This will be the first career meeting between Serena and Zarina. Serena will need to raise her level after a very unconvincing performance on Saturday night. Zarina Diyas is hungry for a big scalp and is the type of player that will make an opponent pay if they are off their game.

However this match will all be about Serena. The world number 1 should be less nervous coming into this match and should play much better tennis. A comprehensive straight set victory is likely.

Prediction: Serena Williams to defeat Zarina Diyas in 2 sets

Garbine Muguruza vs Karolina Pliskova, Indian Wells R3 Preview

Indian Wells R3: (19) Garbine Muguruza vs (14) Karolina Pliskova

Sunday’s most intriguing match at the BNP Paribas Open sees two of the tours most exciting young stars, Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova go head to head for a spot in the fourth round. There is very little to separate these two powerful ladies, both will be looking to assert their dominance over each other in a matchup that we should see a lot more of in the future. A big match for these two, the winner may well go on to reach the later stages of the tournament.

Garbine was expected to dominate her opening round match against American wild card Irina Falconi, but that certainly wasn’t the case. Garbine Muguruza made a scratchy start to her Indian Wells campaign on Saturday. The Spaniard struggled to find any rhythm but eventually snuck past Irina Falconi 4-6 6-2 6-3 in unconvincing fashion.

 

Garbine struggled throughout most of the match and almost let a 5-0 lead slip in the final set. The Spaniard’s serve failed to fire and she had little rhythm from the baseline. Garbine finished the match with just 1 ace and 5 double faults and hit a whopping 47 unforced errors. Garbine will need to improve dramatically if she is progress any further in Indian Wells.

Karolina Pliskova has been one of the most consistent performers so far this season, if the explosive Czech can continue to maintain such a high level she is a good chance to feature in WTA Finals in Singapore. Karolina Pliskova was also not at her best in her opening round match but got the job done with a 6-3 7-5 victory over Lara Arruabarrena.

 

The conditions in the Californian desert should suit Karolina, her shots will absolutely fly through the air, but the slower courts will give her a little more time to get to more balls, meaning it will be tougher for opponents to rush her.

The head to head between Garbine and Karolina is currently split at one victory apiece. Karolina won their most recent encounter, an extremely hard fought 6-4 5-7 7-5 victory in the semifinals at the Dubai Duty Free Championships just a couple of weeks ago.

Garbine looked to have the edge for much of the third set, however it was Pliskova who remained composed under pressure and served consistently well when she really needed to.

This is a very tough match to call but I’m leaning towards Karolina on this occasion. Garbine played really poorly in her opening match and has had some injury/illness setbacks recently. With Karolina, you always know what you’re going to get and for this reason I think she is the safer pick. This should be another really close, entertaining match.

Prediction: Karolina Pliskova to defeat Garbine Muguruza in 3 sets