Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina survived a stern test from Czech Karolina Muchova before advancing 7-6(4) 2-6 6-4 and will face Iga Swiatek in Friday’s semi-final after the world number one rolled past Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-3 at Indian Wells.
Muchova smacked a backhand crosscourt winner to break serve in the first set for a 3-2 lead and, despite having played several grueling three-set matches at the tournament and having her left thigh wrapped, looked fresh.
The hard-hitting Rybakina struck back when she converted her sixth break point opportunity of the set by pouncing on a weak approach shot from Muchova, who then could not get her volley over the net for 5-5.
In the tiebreaker momentum swung firmly in Rybakina’s favour when she sent a blistering backhand winner down the line for 4-4 and the 76-minute first set ended on a Muchova double fault.
The unseeded Muchova, a former top 20 player now ranked 76th, played nearly flawless tennis in the second set to force the decider.
In the third, the 10th-seeded Rybakina went up an early break on another untimely double fault by Muchova and held at love to push the advantage to 3-1.
Muchova continued to battle, saving two match points on her serve in the ninth game.
But Rybakina did not miss her third opportunity to secure the win, crushing her sixth ace to end the two-hour, 45-minute contest on a sunny day at the WTA 1000 event in the Southern California desert.
“It was a really tough match today,” said Rybakina, who became the first Kazakhstani woman to make it to the tournament’s semis.
“I served much better in the third. I didn’t start that well at the beginning of the match. I was a bit slower than usual and here the conditions are not that easy for me.
“But in the important moments I played well.”
SWIATEK SAILS THROUGH
Rybakina will face the in-form Swiatek for a place in the final after the Pole dispatched unseeded Romanian Cirstea in the afternoon session.
The tournament’s defending champion broke Cirstea for a third time to grab the first set and sprinted out to a 4-0 second set lead.
Cirstea cut the lead to 4-2 but Swiatek was determined not to let her back in the set, crushing a forehand winner for a 5-2 advantage and sealing the victory two games later when Cirstea’s forehand went long on match point.
Swiatek has yet to drop a set at Indian Wells and is brimming with confidence after winning a title in Doha last month.
“From the beginning of the tournament I felt this positive energy,” Swiatek said in an on-court interview.
“The fans are really supportive. It’s not easy when you are the defending champion but I feel like I’m handling it pretty well and just playing my game.”
Swiatek will be out for revenge when she faces Rybakina, who handed her one of her three losses this season in the fourth round of January’s Australian Open.
The winner of that match will face either seventh-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece or big-serving Belarusian second seed Aryna Sabalenka, who also play their semi-final on Friday.