Maria Sakkari thwarts Coco Gauff rally to book Indian Wells title clash with Iga Swiatek | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

Maria Sakkari thwarts Coco Gauff rally to book Indian Wells title clash with Iga Swiatek

Mar 16, 2024 03:43 PM IST

For the second time in three years, Maria Sakkari will take on Iga Swiatek for Indian Wells the title after falling to the Polish star in 2022.

Maria Sakkari needed three sets and four match points to get past US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday, setting up a title clash with world number one Iga Swiatek at the ATP-WTA Indian Wells Masters. In a match halted twice by rain, Greece's ninth-ranked Sakkari squandered three match points in the second set but pulled away in the third to win 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2.

Maria Sakkari plays a backhand against Coco Gauff.(Getty Images via AFP)
Maria Sakkari plays a backhand against Coco Gauff.(Getty Images via AFP)

For the second time in three years, she'll take on Swiatek for the title after falling to the Polish star in 2022. Four-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek needed just 69 minutes to clinch her return to the championship match, beating 32nd-ranked Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk 6-2, 6-1.

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There would be no easy victory for Sakkari, who trailed 4-3 in the opening set when light rain stopped play for 20 minutes. Sakkari returned and held serve before gaining the only break of the opening set, converting her fifth break point.

The second set had barely begun when heavier rain halted play for two hours. When it resumed, Sakkari struck first, breaking an error-prone Gauff for 2-1 and again for a 5-2 lead.

But the world number three, playing in the Indian Wells semi-finals for the first time, responded. Gauff broke Sakkari handily to claw back to 5-3. Two games later, Sakkari battled back from 15-40 down but couldn't convert her three match points, sailing a forehand long on the first before Gauff saved two more with winners on the way to a service break that knotted the set at 5-5.

The tiebreaker was all Gauff as the American roared to a 6-2 lead, finally leveling the match with a service winner on her fourth set point. They exchanged service breaks to start the third set, but Sakkari won the next three games to take control and broke Gauff a final time to seal the win after two hours and 41 minutes.

"I don't want to disrespect Coco but it would've been amazing if this match was over an hour ago," Sakkari told the hardy fans who braved the cold night air and rain.

"I'm going to take this win, even though it was in three sets," she added. "That was an amazing win. Coco is such an amazing opponent. She's incredible. She fights every point. I'm just so happy I'm in the final once again here."

Sakkari said sheer determination was key. "I didn't give up," she said. "You can easily lose your head when you lose that second set from being match point up.

"Things go wrong and I was down a break. Things didn't look right, but I just kept believing and kept fighting."

Swiatek positive vibes

Swiatek, meanwhile, was in complete control throughout against Kostyuk. "I think it was the cleanest match I played here," said Swiatek, who hit 14 winners with just six unforced errors and didn't face a break point. "I didn't really have any moment today in the match where I didn't feel confident.

"I have all the positive vibes."

Although she reached the final without dropping a set, Swiatek had insisted after prior victories that she had a few things in her game to sort out. It looked as if she had done just that as she put Kostyuk on the run early, piling on the pressure with her precision and power.

The Ukrainian, playing in her first 1000 level semi-final, held serve to open the match, but Swiatek won the next five games and pocketed the opening set in half an hour. Kostyuk, who finished with 17 winners and 23 unforced errors, could find no way to right the ship.

Swiatek, 22, has come back strong from her disappointing third-round exit at the Australian Open. She won the title in Doha and reached the semi-finals in Dubai, and her 19 match wins are the most of any WTA player this year.

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