As befits a WTA Tour 1000 event, the Miami Open semifinals has more than its share of marquee power -- Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina, ranked Nos.3 and 7. It will feature two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
And then there is the World No.74, the most unusual of suspects. Casual tennis fans, say hello to Sorana Cirstea.
We can tell you that the Romanian, who turns 33 the first week of April, started in the sport at the age of 4. As a 14-year-old, she appeared in her first ITF event, in Bucharest -- a few months after Coco Gauff was born.
She’s an admirer of Stefanie Graf and, perhaps not coincidentally, the forehand is her favorite shot. Movies, shopping, reading and crosswords are among her off-court hobbies. Favorite cities are London and New York, big cities with lots to do.
Speaking of which, Cirstea has been doing some great things in south Florida on the way to a Friday semifinal matchup with Kvitova or Alexandrova. She’s already created an enviable list of career firsts:
- In her first match against No.2-ranked Aryna Sabalenka, Cirstea won in straight sets, handing Sabalenka only her third loss of the year. Sabalenka is the highest-ranked player she’s ever beaten.
- With victories over Sabalenka and No.5 Caroline Garcia, Cirstea has beaten two Top 5 opponents in a single tournament for the first time.
- Cirstea is the first player ranked outside the Top 50 to win nine main-draw matches at the Sunshine Double in a single year.
Cirstea, in her postmatch press conference, said she doesn’t keep track of the numbers on paper.
“I have always been a good player,” she said. “I have always been a dangerous player. I have always had a big game, but sometimes I lacked a bit of consistency. If let’s say on paper it looks like it’s 10 years, but in these 10 years I feel like I have had great results as well and periods where I was playing very, very well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep that level the whole year.
“It’s always a puzzle, and now all those things are starting to, all the pieces are starting to come together.”
This is her second career WTA 1000 semifinal. The first occurred nearly a decade ago in Toronto. Cirstea won that match against Li Na before falling to Serena Williams in the final. That gap is the second-longest ever, after Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s 11 years between 2010 Cincinnati and 2021 Madrid.
The BIGGEST win of her career 💫— wta (@WTA) March 29, 2023
and yet to drop a set, @sorana_cirstea is levitating in Miami 🆙#MiamiOpen pic.twitter.com/A9FuPDpqSW
OK, just one more -- Only Rybakina (12) has won more WTA 1000 main-draw matches this year than the 10 victories belonging to Cirstea and Barbora Krejcikova.
Here's a deeper dive into the match:
Miami Open: Scores | Order of play | Draws
No.15 Petra Kvitova vs. Sorana Cirstea
Last year there were whispers that the two-time Wimbledon champion might retire. Now, at the age of 33, Kvitova is on the cusp of returning to the Top 10.
Kvitova edges Alexandrova to reach Miami semifinals for first time
In her 13th appearance at the Miami Open, she’s into her first semifinal. Friday (3 p.m., ET) she faces No.74-ranked Sorana Cirstea for the chance to play Jessica Pegula or Elena Rybakina in the final.
Kvitova defeated No.18 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in a testing Thursday quarterfinal. Cirstea, 32, scored the upset of the tournament on Wednesday, a 6-4, 6-4 win over No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka.
Who else can hear this GIF? 🦁🗣️@Petra_Kvitova | #MiamiOpen pic.twitter.com/BJAg0alcdl— wta (@WTA) March 30, 2023
“Nice, I think, to be playing somebody who is in as good form as me,” Kvitova told reporters later. “We played few battles already during our years. We practiced here before the tournament started as well.
“So it’s kind of nice, I have to say, that somebody over 30 as well playing so nice. It’s nice, it’s fun. I’m happy for Sorana, how she’s playing, with the run she has. Definitely would be nice to face her again.”
By reaching the semifinals, Cirstea’s ranking will vault into the 40s, up from No.74. A win here could lift her into the 20s -- not far from her career-high mark of No.21 a decade ago. It won’t be easy, though, because Kvitova is a very familiar foe and it hasn’t gone particularly well.
No one has played Cirstea more often --10 times -- and the head-to-head edge is 6-4, Kvitova. Only two other players, Agnieszka Radwanska and Sara Errani, have beaten Cirstea six times.
On the other hand, Cirstea is making some personal history every round she advances. Against Sabalenka, she was brave in the critical moments. One point from the first set, Cirstea sent a 105 mph ace down the middle. Serving for the match, she fought off two break points and then forged her first match point with another ace (107) down the middle. She finished with seven, her best effort of the year.
Cirstea, into only the second WTA Tour 1000 semifinal of her career, has a vast disadvantage in terms of experience at this level. Kvitova is the seventh player to reach at least 20 semifinals in WTA-1000 events. The others are Simona Halep, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki since 2009.
As usual, it could come down to serving. Kvitova has won 88.6 percent of her games on serve (39/44), the highest percentage in this event. She also has the highest ratio of break points saved (72.2 percent, 13/18) of the players remaining. On the other side, only Marta Kostyuk (133) has suffered more double faults than Kvitova’s 108 so far this year.