By Ros Satar – In Indian Wells

  • Victoria Azarenka [13] v Magdalena Rybarikova
  • Karolina Pliskova v Daria Kasatkina

INDIAN WELLS, USA – Former champion Victoria Azarenka brings the experience in a wide open bottom half of the draw at the BNP Paribas Open.

Victoria Azarenka [13] v Magdalena Rybarikova

– H2H: Azarenka leads 2-0

While a lot of the attention has sat with a loaded top-half of the draw, with two WTA Finals being re-contested in the desert sun, the bottom half was split wide open early on as some of the highest seeds and best known names fell foul of the tricky conditions.

Gone again in the first round was Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, and 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbiñe Muguruza. Farewell also to Caroline Wozniacki and to an already two-time title winner this year Sloane Stephens.

In a way, Azarenka has been flying under the radar this week, and maybe that has suited her fine, although she was pushed to three sets by Sam Stosur to reach the quarter-final stage.

Rybarikova by contrast is the lowest ranked player in the last eight, and after battling injuries, her two wins over Britain’s Laura Robson and 31st seed Daria Gavrilova were her first back to back WTA main draw wins since Istanbul in July 2015, and ironically she is contesting her first quarter-final since then.

Azarenka, a champion here in 2012, is into her third quarter-final of the year, and it looks as though she has finally hit upon the right balance of will to come back and putting in the training.

She said, after reaching the quarter-finals: “I started to be more efficient on my movement, which is big part of my game, to be able to find angles, cut angles, and just overall placement of the ball. I worked a lot on my serve to be able to create easier serving games and going for my shots, developing power speed, and now need to work a little bit more on accuracy.”

Pick: Azarenka in two sets


Karolina Pliskova [18] v Daria Kasatkina – First Meeting

On her tournament debut, Kasatkina has been making strides as the youngest player still left in the draw, and the only teenager standing. She has already shown some great signs of promise, notching up two third round Slam runs reaching the third rounds of the US Open 2015 and this year’s Australian Open.

She will face Pliskova, who took three sets to defeat British No. 1 Johanna Konta, as she enjoys her best run here at Indian Wells. Pliskova has snapped her opening round losing streak at both Dubai and Doha, and seems to have settled into a decent run, and is the favourite to come out of this quarter-final the winner.

Coming off the back of a career year-end best finish at No. 11 as well as cracking the Top 10, the bottom half of the draw could open up for her to win her best title to date if she can get past the talented Russian.

Pick: Pliskova in three sets.

Kasatkina v Pliskova is scheduled on Stadium 1 at 11am (6pm GMT) and Azarenka v Rybarikova is scheduled on Stadium 1, not before 5pm (Midnight Friday, GMT).

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