Change can sometimes be a good thing. But in a startling span of less than two weeks, Simona Halep experienced three dramatic events:
On Sept. 15, she married her boyfriend, Toni Iuruc. A week later, she announced she was splitting with her longtime coach Darren Cahill. Five days later, Halep turned 30.
How do you focus on tennis with all that happening?
“My husband took care of the wedding, so I didn’t move one finger for it,” Halep said Friday, after a 7-6 (2), 6-1 victory over Marta Kostyuk. “I just said that I want white flowers, so he knew what I like and he did everything. So thanks to him I didn’t have to stress myself for the party. I just enjoyed it.
“After two days, I went [back to] the gym.”
Daniel Dobre and Adrian Marcu, who both have experience coaching the two-time Grand Slam champion, will support Halep going forward.
“Turning 30, as well. Big change.
“Many things are happening in my life, actually happened already. Now I feel like more relaxed because everything is set. I know what I have to do.”
What she has to do Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open isn’t quite what Halep – and so many others – imagined. One of the most anticipated third-round matchups of the tournament never materialized when Aliaksandra Sasnovich stunned reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu.
“I wish her luck,” Halep said of Raducanu before her evening match. “She has to stay focused, because, yeah, many, many years ahead of tennis, so I’m sure that she will win more. But, yeah, will be a little bit tough when she feels the pressure, I think.”
Nevertheless, there are eight intriguing third-round Sunday matches from the bottom half of the draw. There are a total of five major champions in action – and two of them, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, play each other.
The winner gets either Halep or Sasnovich.
Here’s a closer look:
No.2 Iga Swiatek vs. No.25 Veronika Kudermetova
This match takes place exactly one year after Swiatek – an unseeded teenager – burned through the field at Roland Garros and collected her first major singles title.
It feels longer than that, given her subsequent success and perpetual poise as a champion, but the fact remains this year is the 20-year-old Swiatek’s main-draw debut in Indian Wells. She started well Friday, defeating Petra Martic 6-1, 6-3.
“The success came pretty early, so I wouldn’t say I was like 100 percent prepared for that,” Swiatek said in her post-match interview. “But on the other hand I knew what to do when it happened. So with the help from my team and from my family, it was pretty easy for me to just come back competing and do it pretty well.
🌴I really enjoy being and playing here. We're in Tennis Paradise after all.🏜️ Two years ago I was in qualies, today I'm in the 3rd round in my main draw debut. A lot has changed since then. pic.twitter.com/aIkVF00Igd— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) October 8, 2021
“But I had my ups and downs, for sure. It wasn’t easy situation, and all these new experiences, like, you have to somehow pay for that. So I had like some nights when I couldn't sleep, but really I think like watching the experience of other players, I think it was pretty smooth anyway.”
Meanwhile, Kudermetova handled Liudmila Samsonova 6-2, 6-3.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Swiatek, a 6-3, 6-3 first-round win at last year’s US Open.
No.4 Elina Svitolina vs. No.32 Sorana Cirstea
It was a terrific summer for Svitolina. She collected a bronze medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympics and a husband, fellow professional tennis player Gael Monfils. Her second-round win over Tereza Martincova 6-2, 7-5 was her 40th of the season and her 12th in the past 14 outings.
Svitolina won the Chicago 250 going into US Open, then reached the quarterfinals there, losing to eventual finalist Leylah Fernandez in a third-set tiebreaker.
Cirstea was a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Misaki Doi.
Head-to-head: 2-0, Svitolina (2016 Roland Garros first round, 2017 Istanbul quarterfinals).
No.7 Petra Kvitova vs. No.27 Victoria Azarenka
Here is a vintage 30-something matchup featuring a pair of veteran two-time major champions going at it.
Magda Linette was leading Azarenka 5-2, then dropped the next eight games before retiring with the score 7-5, 3-0. Kvitova was a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Arantxa Rus.
Azarenka won the title here in 2012 and 2016. Kvitova, who reached the quarterfinals in 2013 and 2016, was a semifinalist in Ostrava and has won eight of 11 matches.
Head-to-head: 5-3, Kvitova, but they’ve met only once in the past six years. The heart of the rivalry occurred in 2011, when Kvitova won all three of their high-level matches – in the Madrid final, the Wimbledon semifinals and the championship match at the WTA Finals.
No.11 Simona Halep vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich
In her post-match press conference, no one asked Halep – the 2015 Indian Wells champion – about a potential match with Sasnovich.
“She’s kind of favorite for the next match, if we play,” Halep said of Radacanu. “I stayed so much this year with injuries, so I’m just trying to come back as much as possible and as good as possible. And honestly, I will focus on myself like I do every match.”
As well she should against Sasnovich, a 27-year-old from Belarus who is ranked No.100. On Friday, she scored only her second Top 50 victory in a completed match against Raducanu. After winning 20 straight sets in New York, including qualifying, the 18-year-old dropped both to Sasnovich, who defeated her second straight teenager this week after a 6-0, 6-4 win over Maria Camila Osorio Serrano.
Sasnovich has been clutch so far at Indian Wells, saving 12 of 15 break points. On the other hand, Halep hasn’t lost to a player outside the Top 50 this season and is now 20-3 in her past 23 matches at Indian Wells against players outside the Top 20.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Halep (first round 2019 Wimbledon).
No.9 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. No.23 Leylah Fernandez
The other recent US Open finalist is still alive. The 19-year-old Fernandez eased past Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-3 in her first match in the desert.
Pavlyuchenkova defeated Madison Keys 6-3, 6-1.
“It’s going to be a very tough match,” Fernandez said. “She’s a very good player. She got to the finals in the French Open.”
Pavlyuchenkova, 30, is enjoying a career resurgence. A dozen years ago, she was an Indian Wells semifinalist.
This summer the Russian won an Olympic gold medal with Andrey Rublev in mixed doubles.
This will be their first meeting.
Shelby Rogers vs. Irina-Camelia Begu
This is the only matchup of two unseeded players on Sunday’s schedule.
No.8 seed Belinda Bencic, the Olympic gold medalist in singles, withdrew from the tournament before her first match – citing a knee injury she sustained earlier in Chicago – giving way to No.112-ranked qualifying lucky loser Kristina Kucova.
Rogers was a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Kucova, while Begu upended No.31 Jil Teichmann 7-5, 6-1.
“The theme of this year has been adapting and adjusting to whatever’s thrown at us,” Rogers said in a Tennis Channel interview. “So today was no different. I wish Belinda a speedy recovery. It’s never fun to have to withdraw at the last minute. Even Kucova’s, she’s got to adjust and rush around and try to warm up, so everybody was just kind of all over the place today.
“In the end, if I focus on what I’m doing and can execute, turns out OK.”
Rogers, a 28-year-old American who is ranked No.44 is capable of big things. She knocked off World No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the third round of the US Open and Bianca Andreescu in the second round at Chicago.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Rogers (2016 Roland Garros, fourth round).
No.24 Jelena Ostapenko vs. Yulia Putintseva
Putintseva defeated No. 13 Elena Rybakina 6-2, 7-6 (5) here in a matchup between the two highest-ranked players from Kazakhstan.
The 26-year-old, ranked No.43, won the title in Budapest earlier this year, the second of her career.
Ostapenko beat Hsieh Su-Wei 6-3, 6-0 in just over one hour. The 2017 French Open champion recently reached the finals at Luxembourg, falling the Clara Tauson in the final. She won on the title on grass at Eastbourne just ahead of Wimbledon.
Head-to-head: 2-1, Putintseva.
No.19 Jessica Pegula vs. Jasmine Paolini
It was another big-tournament performance for Pegula, who handled Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3 and advanced to the third round for the first time at Indian Wells.
The 27-year-old American has now won 36 matches on hardcourts over the past 14 months and reached the quarterfinals of four tournaments worth 1000 points or more.
“I don’t really know why that is,” Pegula said. “I’m just confident at this level. I’m confident I can go deep at these tournaments. Hopefully I can continue to go deeper consistently.”
Paolini, who had to qualify her way into the main draw, came back to upset No. 14 Elise Mertens 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Head-to-head: 2-0, Pegula (2016 Orlando, 2018 Houston).