The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells continued with semifinals action on Friday, as Serena Williams booked her spot in the final by beating Agnieszka Radwanska in two sets while Victoria Azarenka needed three sets to get past Karolina Pliskova.
Both Williams and Azarenka are past winners of the prestigious Indian Wells tournament, and both entered the event in strong form. It shouldn't come as a shock to see the two meet in the final, although Azarenka had to dig very deep to get past Pliskova.
Here is a look at the schedule:
|Sunday, March 20||Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka||TBD|
Williams continued her run at Indian Wells with a gritty 6-4, 7-6(1) win over Radwanska to reach her first final since 2001.
Williams, who is playing at Indian Wells for just the second time after a 14-year boycott, is now 23-1 at the iconic tennis venue in California.
In trademark fashion, Williams overcame a sluggish start, blew a late lead yet triumphed to victory.
Williams trailed 3-1 in the first set and Radwanska twice had the opportunity to break Williams in the fifth and seventh games. But Williams answered with breaks in two of the final three games of the set to take an early advantage.
The world No. 1 maintained momentum in the second set, building a 3-0 lead, but Radwanska crept her way back by winning three straight to even the score. She eventually took a 6-5 lead when Williams' backhand volley went out of bounds.
Williams then pushed the set to a tiebreaker and claimed the match victory with a forehand down the line. WTA shared a video of the match-winning play:
Williams overcame six double faults and won 4-of-7 break points with five aces.
She had a humorous response when informed she was the oldest woman ever to reach the Indian Wells final:
Serena the oldest woman into @BNPPARIBASOPEN final since Navratilova: "I guess that's awesome to be the grandma in the tournament. I guess."— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 19, 2016
Williams, who is playing in her first tournament since losing a heartbreaking Australian Open final, could continue her march in an Olympic year with a title this weekend.
Meanwhile, Azarenka had a lot of trouble containing serve specialist Pliskova, who rattled off no fewer than 17 aces in their three-set clash. The Belarus star and former Indian Wells winner eventually emerged victorious, winning 7-6(1), 1-6, 6-2.
Both struggled for consistency at times, which made for a highly entertaining final for neutral viewers. The more experienced Azarenka appeared to be in the driver's seat after the first set, but per Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times, Pliskova stormed back in the second set:
Peak Pliskova always a treat to watch, and these conditions suit her well. Takes second 6-1 over Azarenka; going three for spot in IW final.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 19, 2016
Azarenka took far too many risks with her serve in the second set and tried to force the action, and she reverted to a more patient approach in the third. The slow court played to her advantage in the rallies, and Pliskova couldn't dominate with her serve as before and quickly ran into a decisive break.
Williams will enter the final as the favourite to win her third Indian Wells crown, her first since 2001, after which she and her sister famously decided to boycott the tournament, per the Press Association (for the Guardian.)