After her third-round win against Danielle Collins at the BNP Paribas Open, Ons Jabeur was asked if she had been thinking about the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“I gave it a lot of thoughts, actually,” she said, smiling. “The competition is very, very tight with everybody wanting to go.”
After making the critical decision to stay in the United States and practice for two weeks after the US Open – passing on a few events in Europe – Jabeur has increased her chances of making to the year-end championships.
Her 6-2, 6-2 victory over Anna Kalinskya vaulted her past Naomi Osaka into the top eight in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals.
Jessica Pegula, Anett Kontaveit, Angelique Kerber and Paula Badosa can still challenge Jabeur for the eighth spot depending on how Indian Wells plays out.
The players, of course, are physically and emotionally weary as they come to the end of what has been two long and disjointed seasons. With Indian Wells canceled in 2020 and moved from March to October in 2021, forgive Kerber if, in the back of her mind, she’s preparing for the Sunshine Double.
“For me sometimes it’s a little bit tricky because I still think after here we go to Miami,” Kerber said.
Guadalajara, where it regularly reaches into the 80s, even in November, might not be a bad substitute.
Here are Thursday’s two quarterfinal matches from the top half of the draw:
No.12 Ons Jabeur vs. No.18 Anett Kontaveit
Both players are in phenomenal form. Jabeur leads all WTA players with 47 match-wins in 2021. Kontaveit has won nine straight matches and – get this – 18 sets.
“Last time we played was in Cincinnati, but now I feel like Anett is different player, more confident right now,” Jabeur said. “She’s playing unbelievable. I watched her when she won the title in Ostrava. I will have to change up the rhythm.”
Said Kontaveit, “I’ve been playing good tennis. Have a few wins under my belt. It’s going to be a tough match for sure. I mean, Ons has been playing really well.”
The 25-year-old from Estonia had an interesting path to the quarters. She was on the verge of serving out her first match, when qualifier Martina Trevisan retired with a leg injury. She followed that up with a firm 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over defending champion Bianca Andreescu – who came in 8-0 at Indian Wells.
Tuesday evening, Kontaveit was a 6-0, 6-2 winner over lucky loser Beatriz Haddad Maia. Earlier, the No.115-ranked Maia defeated No.1 Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5, for the biggest win of her career. Kontaveit has won 16 of 17, going back to late August, which includes titles in Cleveland and Ostrava.
Jabeur, meanwhile, would become the first Arab to reach the WTA or ATP Top 10 if she were to win her quarterfinal match.
“It’s something that I've been waiting for for a long time,” Jabeur said. “Obviously I didn’t get the breakthrough just after the juniors, which is completely OK with me. I said it from the beginning of the season, that I want to be Top 10. I know I am reaching my goals right now, but I feel there is a lot of hard work that I need to do still.”
It starts with Kontaveit, whom she considers a good friend.
“If I win or if she wins,” Jabeur said, “I’ll be really happy for her.”
Head-to-head: 2-1, Jabeur. Most recently a three-set win for Jabeur earlier this summer in Cincinnati.
No.10 Angelique Kerber vs. No.21 Paula Badosa
In her main-draw debut at Indian Wells, Badosa has gotten very comfortable very quickly. She knocked off 17-year-old Coco Gauff in her first match and then surpassed that with Tuesday’s surprising 6-1, 7-5 victory over practice partner Barbora Krejcikova.
How surprising? The No.3-seeded Krejcikova was the last Top 10 player in the draw, the reigning French Open champion. She had won 29 of her past 33 matches. The only players to beat her since Rome were No.1 (Barty) and No.2 (Sabalenka).
The ascendant 23-year-old Spanish player has now compiled seven career Top 20 wins – all of them coming this year. She hit a career-high ranking of No.26 in September but says she is still struggling with a lingering shoulder injury.
One of the ongoing narratives at Indian Wells is the slow pace of the hardcourts. Badosa, like Jelena Ostapenko, thrives on clay courts but has shown well here. Over a span of two months, she produced a record of 17-3 in four consecutive clay tournaments, including a title in Belgrade and the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
Where did all of this come from?
“Mentally I did have a big step ahead,” she said after beating Gauff. “My tennis is improving day by day. Physically I did a big change, as well. I’m moving faster. Confidence as well. Everything is helping.
“I’m believing in myself. I think it’s a big change.”
For someone who struggled in her first match here, then lost six consecutive service games in her second, against Daria Kasatkina, Kerber looked sharp in a 6-4, 6-1 round-of-16 win over Ajla Tomljanovic.
Kerber, the 33-year-old German, was a 2019 finalist here and is riding a run of 20 match-wins in a span of 24.
“I know she played really well this year,” Kerber said of Badosa. “She hits hard. On the other side she moves well, has a good serve. I think it’s more again to focusing on my game, yeah, just playing good tennis again, going for my shots, and let’s see what happen.”
Badosa knows this won’t be easy.
“You have to play 10 balls if you have to win a point against her,” she said. “I know it’s going to be a very physical match.
“Again, she’s another champion. It’s going to be a pleasure for me to share the court with her, to see her level. Seen her so many times on TV. It’s exciting.”