Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus continued her stellar streak of surprises at the 2021 BNP Paribas Open, ousting 2015 Indian Wells champion and No.11 seed Simona Halep of Romania 7-5, 6-4 to reach the round of 16.
The World No.100 Sasnovich has now notched consecutive straight-set wins against Grand Slam champions and Top 25 players. In the second round, Sasnovich eliminated reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu, and now she has followed up with her 98-minute victory over two-time major titlist Halep.
Fast facts: Halep’s second Grand Slam title came at 2019 Wimbledon, where Sasnovich was her first-round opponent. It was their only prior meeting.
But Sasnovich exacted revenge with Sunday’s win, leading to her best tour-level winning streak in two years. With her first-round victory over Maria Camila Osorio Serrano added to her upsets of Raducanu and Halep, Sasnovich has won three consecutive WTA main-draw matches for the first time since 2019.
Sasnovich, who peaked at World No.30 in 2018, went for broke with aggressive play on many points, and the tactic paid off. The Belarusian won a tremendous 82 percent of first-service points in the affair and knocked off 22 winners to Halep's 16.
Former World No.1 Halep, who made her 10th appearance at Indian Wells this year, also had five fewer unforced errors than Sasnovich, but it would not be enough for the Romanian, as she only converted two of her six break points while also dropping serve four times.
Crucial moments: Halep saw a 40-0 lead slip away as she dropped serve at 3-3 in the opener, but Sasnovich failed to serve out the set at 5-4, with a double fault and three other errors. However, Sasnovich continued to press in rallies and was rewarded with another break for 6-5. Sasnovich would not make the same mistake twice, closing out the set in the next game with a backhand crosscourt winner.
In the second set, Sasnovich saw a 2-0 lead pulled back to level footing, but she continued to go for the lines powerfully and without hesitation. The gambit worked sublimely at 4-4, where she fired fantastic backhand winners on three points, leading to a break at love and a chance to serve out the match. Sasnovich took that chance with aplomb to earn her second straight upset of the week.
Next up: A third consecutive Grand Slam champion awaits Sasnovich in the Round of 16, where she will face her compatriot, No.27 seed Victoria Azarenka.
The two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka beat another Grand Slam winner, two-time Wimbledon champion and No.7 seed Petra Kvitova in the third round.
Svitolina survives Cirstea challenge
Earlier on Sunday, No.4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine had to go down to the wire to reach the Round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, edging No.32 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) in a two-and-a-half-hour thriller.
A semifinalist at the most recent edition of the tournament in 2019, Svitolina fought back from a break down at 4-2 in the final set to overcome Cirstea and improve her head-to-head record against the Romanian to 3-0.
Words from the winner: "It was a very tough match today, and I was fighting and trying to find my game," Svitolina said. "It was a bit of a rollercoaster.
"I wish I could play a little bit better in the first set, I had chances to grab that set, but unfortunately it didn't play the way I wanted. I had to fight for every point, and Sorana played a great match, I think. I'm happy that I could win today."
Stat corner: Svitolina added another comeback victory to her list this season. Sunday's victory marked the 10th time in 2021 she has come back from a set down to triumph.
Each player broke serve four times during the clash, but Cirstea left many more opportunities to break on the table. The Romanian left 12 of 16 break points begging while Svitolina had a much stingier conversion rate of 4-for-5.
Aggressive Cirstea had 45 winners to 42 unforced errors as she tried to dictate play whenever she could, but in the decisive tiebreak, it was Svitolina who reigned supreme as she keeps her hopes alive for a spot at the year-ending Akron WTA Finals. The Top 8 players qualify, and Svitolina is No.12 in the Porsche Race to the Finals.
Key moments: Four service breaks in a row left Cirstea and Svitolina all square at 4-4 in the opening set, but the Romanian put a stop to that streak with a routine hold for 5-4. In that game, Svitolina erased two set points with an ace and a backhand crosscourt pass respectively, but Cirstea obtained a third set point, which she converted by following up a dropshot with a winning pass.
Svitolina rebounded in the second set, reaching break point at 1-1 with a crosscourt forehand off a net-clipper, then converting the chance to lead 2-1. That would prove to be the only break in the second set, as Svitolina fended off two break points at 5-4 with clutch serving en route to leveling the match.
Cirstea took the early lead in the final set, coming out on top in rallies to break for 4-2. But Svitolina used pinpoint hitting to immediately break back as the pair inexorably moved into a decisive tiebreak.
In the breaker, Cirstea earned the first minibreak with a backhand winner into the corner, but Svitolina went on a tear from there, picking up four points in a row to lead 5-2. Two points later, a long backhand miscue gave Svitolina triple match point at 6-3, and the Ukrainian converted the first after a netted return by Cirstea.
Rogers rolls into Round of 16
Shelby Rogers became the first American this year to reach the BNP Paribas Open Round of 16 on home soil. The World No.44 dismantled another Romanian, Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-0, 6-2 in 72 minutes.
Rogers saved the lone break point she faced and won a staggering 91 percent of points behind her first serve to ease past 61st-ranked Begu for her second win in their two meetings.
The American had never made it beyond the second round in her five previous main-draw appearances at Indian Wells, but Rogers broke that duck this week as she continues a run of good form on the hardcourts.
Rogers has won eight of her past 10 matches, including a fourth-round showing at the US Open, where she shocked World No.1 Ashleigh Barty before falling to eventual champion Emma Raducanu.