Elena Rybakina stroked her way into the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday -- her first final four appearance in a Hologic WTA Tour 1000 event.

Rybakina scored a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-4 victory over the resurgent Karolina Muchova. But if not for a pair of poorly timed errant forehands in the first set, this match could have well gone the other way.

“It was very tough today,” Rybakina said in her on-court interview. “I didn’t start that well. I was a bit slower than usual. Karolina, she played really well. And then in important moments, I played well.”

Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion and Australian Open finalist, will meet No.1 Iga Swiatek, who knocked off Sorana Cirstea later Friday. Either way, Rybakina will bring some robust confidence into this match.

She’s split two matches with Swiatek, but the most recent encounter -- in the fourth round of the Australian Open back in January -- went to Rybakina in straight sets.  

Afterward, reporters asked Rybakina if the result against Swiatek in Melbourne would have any bearing on Friday’s match.

“I’m trying not to think about this,” she said, “because it’s different conditions. It  also depends a lot how physically I feel. I’m kind of realistic in these things. I know that, of course, if I am going bring my best tomorrow, there is chances that I’m going to win.

“If it’s going to be a bit of a drop like today, maybe in the second set when it was very quick, first three games of the second set, then of course the chances are less just because she’s No.1 and she’s very consistent. “So there is not many margin to mistakes, I will say.”

How far has Rybakina come in a year’s time? Last season, the 23-year-old from Kazakhstan lost to Maria Sakkari in the quarterfinals here. Despite heavy conditions that weren’t conducive to her heavy hitting game, Rybakina showed some striking patience against Muchova. She’s a rhythm player and, after a grueling 76-minute first set, she started to find her groove.

The match went a dizzying 2 hours, 45 minutes. Rybakina had 44 winners, balanced by 32 unforced errors.

Before last year, Muchova made three deep runs into Grand Slam singles draws -- Wimbledon’s quarterfinals in 2019 and 2021 and the 2021 Australian Open semifinals. And then injuries occurred and she saw her ranking plummet into the 200s. An abdominal muscle tear cost her seven months, from August 2021 to March 2022, and then a sprained ankle and wrist injury seriously compromised her season last year.

Muchova reached the quarterfinals in the Dubai 1000 but withdrew from that match against Jessica Pegula, citing another abdominal issue. Competing in Indian Wells for the first time, Muchova moved steadily through the draw, defeating in order Yulia Putintseva, No.14 seed Victoria Azarenka, No.23 Martina Trevisan and Marketa Vondrousova.

Three of those four matches went three sets, and by the time she got to the quarterfinals, she had been on court for more than nine hours and had a heavily taped left thigh and trainer’s tape running down both legs.

Scrambling to save two breaks in her first service game, Muchova arrived at the fifth game all even with Rybakina. Then, in a game that consumed more than eight minutes, she scored the first break of the match. She took a 3-2 lead with a series of sharp backhands.

That lead held up all the way to a set point, with Muchova serving at 5-4. She followed a big serve to net but her forehand volley didn’t land anywhere close to the court. After Rybakina had failed to convert five break points, she crushed the sixth, with a forehand that Muchova couldn’t track down.

The tiebreak came down to another missed forehand by Muchova. On serve at 4-5, she sent one flying. Clearly disheartened, Muchova double-faulted off the net cord, and Rybakina had won her fifth tiebreak of the year -- against zero losses.

Muchova staged an impressive re-set, breaking Rybakina in the second set’s second game and eventually took a 3-0 lead. And then she book-ended that with another break to take the second set -- the first dropped set for Rybakina this year in Indian Wells.

She entered the match with the most net approaches, but by the third set, Muchova wasn’t moving as well -- and her service speed had diminished dramatically. Rybakina scored the decisive break in the third game when Muchova double-faulted. Serving at 4-3, Rybakina saw Muchova force the eighth game to deuce but two big serves, the second an ace, got her closer to the semifinals. An ace down the middle, on a third match point, ended it.

Muchova, ranked No.76 among WTA Tour players, was trying to become only the third player ranked outside the Top 50 to reach the semifinals in the tournament’s long history.