Indian Wells SF #2: (13) Victoria Azarenka vs (18) Karolina Pliskova
Victoria Azarenka continues her quest for a second Indian Wells title on Friday night where she will come up against Karolina Pliskova at the semi-final stage of the BNP Paribas Open. This will be the first encounter between the pair since last year’s epic match at the Brisbane International, Pliskova claimed a memorable three set victory in a match that lasted over three hours on that occasion. This promises to be another close, exciting encounter between Azarenka and Pliskova.
Victoria Azarenka’s 2016 season form has generally been quite impressive, amassing a 15-1 win/loss record. The Belarusian has looked good in the Californian desert, dropping just 1 set on route to the semi-final stage. Azarenka opened her Indian Wells campaign with reasonably comfortable straight set wins over Zarina Diyas and Shuai Zhang before being pushed to a third set by Sam Stosur, Azarenka played very strong tennis in the deciding set to claim a 6-1 4-6 6-1 victory over the Australian. Azarenka’s quarter-final victory was an emphatic one, a crushing 6-0 6-0 win over a somewhat injury-hampered Magdalena Rybarikova. Azarenka will face a much, much tougher test against Pliskova Pliskova on Friday evening.
Karolina Pliskova is having the best couple of weeks of her season thus far. The Czech has gradually improved throughout the event and seems to be well positioned heading into her semi-final clash with Azarenka. Pliskova recorded comfortable straight set wins over Shelby Rogers and Ana Ivanovic in her first two matches of the week before producing a gutsy performance to get past Johanna Konta in three sets. Karolina saved her most impressive performance of the event thus far for the quarter-final stage where she thumped Daria Kasatkina, claiming a 6-3 6-2 victory over the Russian rising star. Pliskova barely put a foot wrong in that match, serving extremely well and striking the ball with real venom from the baseline. If Pliskova can produce a similar level on Friday night, she may well be too powerful for Azarenka. Pliskova is also into the final in the doubles draw alongside Julia Goerges.
The head-to-head record between Azarenka and Pliskova is split at 1 win apiece. It was Pliskova who won their only recent match, an extremely hard-fought 4-6 7-6 6-4 victory at the Brisbane International in the first event of 2015. Pliskova proved in that match that she has the game to trouble Azarenka, a times there wasn’t much Azarenka could do to stop the Czech. It will be interesting to see how different Friday’s match is.
This is fascinating match-up, because these two have very different strengths and weaknesses. Pliskova obviously has the better serve but Azarenka has a better return of serve. Azarenka is the better mover from the back of the court and is more consistent but Pliskova probably has more firepower from the baseline This match will be played late at night, meaning the conditions will be quite slow, it is tough to know who that will favour in this match-up. I think this is going to be a close match and could go either way but I’m siding with Pliskova who can take care of business her if she serves well and makes the most of her opportunities on Azarenka’s relatively weak serve and plays without fear.