Seventh seed Garbine Muguruza, trying to find her best form, faces confident tenth seed Elina Svitolina for a place in the Indian Wells quarterfinals.
Wavering French Open champion Garbine Muguruza tries to snap the 15-match winning streak of Taipei City and Dubai champion Elina Svitolina in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday.
Muguruza’s drop in form after winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2016 has been well-documented – she made just one semifinal, at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, for the remainder of the season – and although there have been encouraging signs in 2017, her season so far has involved a lot of injuries. After battling to the Brisbane International semifinals with wins over Samantha Stosur, Daria Kasatkina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, Muguruza retired against Alize Cornet, and she retired again in her last match before Indian Wells, against Kateryna Bondarenko at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (in between, Muguruza made the Australian Open quarterfinals but lost one-sidedly to Coco Vandeweghe, was thumped by Karolina Pliskova in Fed Cup and edged by Zhang Shuai in three tough sets in Doha).
Landing in the top half of the draw headed by Pliskova, Muguruza has now matched her best former result at the BNP Paribas Open by making the round of 16 but it hasn’t exactly been plain sailing. Opening with a 6-2, 6-3 win over the crafty but erratic Kirsten Flipkens, Muguruza lost the first set to 17-year-old wildcard Kayla Day – ranked world no. 175 – 3-6 and came very close to losing the match, down break points at a juncture which would have seen Day serving for the win with a break. Muguruza came back to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 but it wasn’t exactly a dominant performance.
‘I started a bit off; my shots weren't there. The experience of keeping calm and fighting helped; it's no secret!’ Muguruza said afterwards. ‘I think I'm improving in general a lot of things, but I know that maybe two years ago this match I wouldn't turn it around. I think that's experience.
‘The way I prepare myself to go out there in the court, it's just handling the difficult days because that's what counts and what makes the good players and the not-as-good players.’
Muguruza faces the intimidating prospect of one of the most in-form players in the draw as she takes on Elina Svitolina – she’ll face to snap a 15-match winning streak if she is to make her first Indian Wells quarterfinal.
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Svitolina, a year younger than Muguruza at 22, has spent the last couple of years – with Justine Henin as an occasional coaching consultant – establishing herself securely within the top 20 and carving out a niche for herself on the WTA Tour, winning an International-level title every year since 2013 and making her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open in 2015. In 2016, she won the Malaysian Open title in Kuala Lumpur but more significantly, finished runner-up in New Haven and Zhuhai and made the semifinals of Dubai, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow, making her presence felt at Premier-and-above level. She seemed poised for a breakthrough, and it’s come in 2017: A semifinalist at the Brisbane International, where she beat world no. 1 Angelique Kerber, Svitolina lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round of the Australian Open but hasn’t lost a match since then. She stormed to the fifth title of her career in Taipei City, beat Ashleigh Barty and Daria Gavrilova in Fed Cup, and then played the Premier-5 level Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she beat Zheng Saisai, Christina McHale, Lauren Davis, Kerber (again) and scored the first win of her career against Caroline Wozniacki in the final.
Fresh from winning the biggest title of her career in Dubai, Svitolina gave a walkover in the second round of the Malaysian Open and came into Indian Wells having won 13 matches in a row. After a tough tussle with Wang Qiang in the second round was only settled by a third-set tie break, the tenth seed raced through 24th seed Gavrilova 6-2, 6-1 to make the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open for the second time in her career.
‘I'm trying not to think about whether this is my best tennis,’ Svitolina said. ‘I've achieved a lot of what I wanted, so I'm happy that I'm keeping it going.’
Svitolina might be trying not to dwell on it, but the world no. 10 – she became the first Ukrainian to be ranked inside the top 10 as the result of her Dubai victory – is indubitably playing the best she ever has, which is not good news for Muguruza. The head-to-head between the two is an even 2-2, but Muguruza’s wins came back in 2012 in qualifying for the French Open and Wimbledon; Svitolina beat Muguruza in Dubai and Tokyo in 2016, much more relevant and recent matches. Muguruza has much bigger weapons and more power at her disposal than Svitolina, but hitting through Svitolina doesn’t really work – she has become far too good at absorbing pace and returning it with interest, and there’s been a new tactical maturity and ease about converting defense into attack about the Ukrainian in recent months. All the confidence is on Svitolina’s side of the net and unless Muguruza turns in her best performance of the season so far, it will be a sixteenth straight win – and a first BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal showing – for Svitolina.
Muguruza vs Svitolina is scheduled on Stadium 3 on Tuesday at 5pm local/12am GMT