WATCH: Swiatek completed the BNP Paribas Open semifinal line-up with aplomb, knocking out Cirstea in straight sets.

Iga Swiatek’s pursuit of a second straight BNP Paribas Open singles title stayed on its smooth path today. In 82 minutes, Swiatek handily beat 77th-ranked Sorana Cirstea, 6-2, 6-3, to reach the semifinals. Swiatek has now ten straight matches at Indian Wells, six during her ’22 title run and another four this year.

There was little Cirstea could do to trouble Swiatek. To a great degree, Cirstea plays much like the woman Swiatek played in the previous round, Emma Raducanu—flat drives, reasonable movement, minimal variety. Even on her own delivery, Cirstea only won 48 percent of her first serve points. Hand it to Cirstea for fighting hard, but it was hard to ever imagine her posing many serious questions.

All becomes different for Swiatek in the next round. Of the quartet she’s beaten so far in the desert, only one, world no. 36 Bianca Andreescu, is ranked inside the top 50. In Friday’s semi, though, Swiatek will face the reigning Wimbledon champion, tenth-ranked Elena Rybakina -- the woman who beat her this January in the round of 16 of the Australian Open.

“For sure, she’s playing really well,” Swiatek told courtside interviewer Andrew Krasny this afternoon. “I’ll be ready.”

While Swiatek was hardly challenged by Cirstea, Rybakina was pushed to the limit. In a sparkling quarterfinal epic that lasted nearly three hours—twice as long as Swiatek’s—Rybakina squeaked past the versatile Karolina Muchova, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-4.


Versus Swiatek nearly two months ago in Melbourne, Rybakina snapped up the first set 6-4, and then rallied from 3-0 down in the second, winning five of the last six games. Usually, Swiatek is the one dictating the speed and direction of the rallies. But that day in Australia, Rybakina was more frequently in command.

“In Australia I just know that when I went to play against her,” Rybakina said today, “I had really nothing to lose.”

That match was only the second time these two have played one another, Swiatek beating Rybakina in Ostrava two years ago. So now comes the third edition of what could well blossom into a prominent rivalry.

Said Rybakina, “I would say that for sure Iga, she's a big fighter, she moves really well on court. I think physically she's one of the best for now. It's not easy against her, because you feel that every point is gonna be tough. She's very consistent also.”

The thinking here is that Swiatek’s serve will be the tipping point shot in this match. Should she get in a high percentage of first serves to various spots, Swiatek will be able to grab control of the real estate of the court and often hold smoothly.

But if that doesn’t happen, Rybakina’s laser-sharp return will enter the picture. There’s also the desert’s rare mix of thin air and a slow court, circumstances that can trigger each player to struggle with calibrating her powerful, deep drives—and also limit her ability to volley effectively. Add in the high stakes of trying to reach the finals of a near-Slam level tournament. As the old saying goes, consider Swiatek-Rybakina a battle of serves and nerves.