Stan Wawrinka will contest his first Indian Wells semi-final on Saturday when he takes on Spain’s Pablo Carreno-Busta.
Wawrinka’s previous best at Indian Wells were a couple of quarter finals in 2008 and 2011, but he has battled through an impressive week to break that last-eight hoodoo. Wawrinka began his BNP Paribas Open campaign with a couple of routine wins against Paolo Lorenzi and Philipp Kohlschreiber, but the last two rounds have been anything but straightforward, with the world number three needing third set tie breaks to come through Japanese lucky loser, Yoshihito Nishioka and Austria’s Dominic Thiem.
After a trouble-free couple of rounds, Wawrinka came up against it against Nishioka in the round of 16, dropping the first set, and trailing by a break for most of the final set. Nishioka served for the match twice, but Wawrinka stayed tough to break on both occasions, before taking the match on a tie break.
A tie break would again be required to separate the US Open champion from his next opponent, Thiem in a high-quality quarter final. Wawrinka had opened up a 3-0 lead in the final set, but Thiem responded with a 3-game run of his own to restore parity in the set. Thiem saved a match point at 5-6, but he had no answers in the tie break as Wawrinka ran away with it, sealing the win after two hours and 33 minutes. It was the 450th win of the Swiss’ career.
"The level was really high tonight. I'm really happy with the way I was playing, the way I found a way to win it,” said Wawrinka. “He's a strong player, really tough to play. I think in general we both played at a high level, and the match came down to only one or two points. In the third-set tie-break, I served really well. I was really focused on not giving him anything.”
Wawrinka has now been to the semi-finals in three of four tournaments he has contested this year, with the only exception being Dubai, where he had just returned from a knee injury sustained in a semi-final loss to Roger Federer at the Australian Open. He also lost out to Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals of his first tournament of the season in Brisbane.
Having already fallen at the semi-final hurdle on two occasions in 2017, will it be third time lucky for the world number three? Standing in his way is Spaniard, Pablo Carreno-Busta.
Like Wawrinka, Carreno-Busta was involved in a marathon quarter final, needing over two hours to come through Pablo Cuevas, and into his first ever Masters 1000 semi-finals. It’s a massive jump for the Spaniard, who had never been past the third round of a Masters 1000 event leading up to the 2017 BNP Paribas Open. The 25-year-old absolutely dominated the opening set, breaking his opponent thrice to capture it in just 24 minutes. Cuevas however fought back to take the second, setting up all the drama of the deciding set. Carreno-Busta saved match points on his serve at 4-5 and 5-6, before going on to take the match on a tie break.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Carreno Busta after the match. "It's my first time in the semi-final in a Masters 1000. This tournament is one of the best tournaments in the year and maybe one of the tougher, because all the people is playing here. So I think it's a really great result for me."
The Spaniard has now made four straight ATP semi-finals, after reaching the last four on the clay of Buenos Aires, Rio (where he made the final) and Sao Paolo in a very successful South American Golden Swing. He has also made a quarter final in Sydney, and scored the decisive point for Spain in their nervy victory over Croatia in the first round of the Davis Cup (although he had initially gotten them into a predicament by suffering a shock loss to Franko Skugor- a player ranked outside the top 200 in the opening rubber of the tie!).
Carreno-Busta’s good start to the season is a continuation of all the excellent work he did last year, where he contested four tour finals. He lost the first two, on the clay of Sao Paolo and Estoril, but he showed his surface versatility by claiming his first career title on the hard courts of Winston-Salem, before repeating the trick at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
This is the third meeting between Carreno-Busta and Wawrinka, with the Swiss winning the previous two matches. Wawrinka won 6-3 3-6 6-1 in Estoril in 2013, before easing to a 6-3 6-1 win over the Spaniard in Geneva last year. Carreno-Busta is an honest hard-worker on court. He doesn’t have any remarkable weapons, but he is very consistent off the ground. We saw Wawrinka struggle to put away Nishioka in the fourth round, and he will once again have to work very hard for his points on Saturday.
The Swiss clearly has the superior firepower, and that puts this match on his racket. It could get sticky at some point, but I’m backing the Swiss to continue his fine run, and take his place in the Indian Wells final.