Thursday March 19th, 2015

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Serena Williams came into Wednesday night's quarterfinal at the BNP Paribas Open on a 14-match win streak. Her opponent, No. 26 Timea Bacsinszky, was riding a 14-match win streak, including back-to-back WTA titles in February. Something had to give. In the end it was Serena who extended her streak to 15 matches, beating Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals, where she will play the last woman to beat her, No. 3 Simona Halep.

A day after beating Sloane Stephens in three sets, Serena was tested once again. Bacsinszky has been the hottest play on tour after going undefeated in February, winning titles in Acapulco and Monterrey. Ranked No. 48 to start the season, she has soared up the rankings and will be just outside the Top 20 on Monday. Bacsinszky had break leads in both the first and second set but couldn't withstand Williams's powerful onslaught. The American continues to struggle with slow starts and in-match consistency, but found her serve and forehand towards the tail-end of each set to secure a straight set win. 

Williams hit 7 aces, 4 double-faults, 23 winners, and 31 unforced errors on the night. Bacsinszky, the more crafty but underpowered of the two, hit no aces, 2 double-faults, 11 winners, and 22 unforced errors. Serena says she's still trying to play herself into form. 

"You know me, I can't name anything I'm pleased with today," she said. "I'm just happy that I was able to get through that and still be alive in this tournament, when I haven't clearly been the Serena that we all know."

Waiting for Serena in the semifinals is Halep, who came back to defeat Carla Suarez Navarro 5-7, 6-1, 6-1. Halep beat Serena at the WTA Finals in Singapore last fall 6-0, 6-2 in group play. Halep considers that win the greatest of her career. Serena came back to avenge the loss in the final a few days later, winning 6-3, 6-0. When asked to preview their upcoming semifinal clash, Halep said it was all about belief. 

"If I have courage to go on court and just to think that I can win, I can do it," Halep said. "If I'm nervous and I have emotions, it's much [more] difficult to play against her."

Indian Wells Mailbag: Dimitrov's red face, Serena's return and more

Williams says she underestimated Halep in Singapore. She won't on Friday. "I expect her to be playing an incredible game. I don't think I was necessarily ready for that. Now I'm ready for her to be the great player that she is capable of being."

The other women's semifinal will be determined on Thursday. Defending champion Flavia Pennetta, who beat No. 2 Maria Sharapova on Tuesday, will play Sabine Lisicki. Jelena Jankovic plays surprise quarterfinalist Lesia Tsurenko, who defeated No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard in the Round of 16.

On the men's side of the tournament, the heavy favorites to win the title cruised into the quarterfinals. No. 2 Roger Federer was far too much for Jack Sock, who was playing in his first tournament of the season after undergoing surgery for a pelvic tear in December, to handle. The 22-year-old Sock, playing his first match against one of the ATP Big Four, had a sub-par serving day and couldn't make inroads with his big-hitting game, losing 6-3, 6-2. Federer was happy to play a clean match and handle Sock's heavy topspin forehand.

"Clearly it's not like I don't care losing against a guy my age or who is 25, but still you try to also beat the younger guys too," Federer said. "Especially the first time when you play someone, maybe sort of try a little extra hard. Not that I tried harder today than other matches. I always feel the same way."

"But you do feel the pressure a bit more, even though I wasn't nervous going into the match. But players like Jack can surprise you in the way they hit the ball, the shot selection sometimes, and then he's got a very big serve. He has a lot of power, easy power. That can make it very difficult."

No. 3 Rafael Nadal also cruised into the quarterfinals, beating Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-4. He will play Milos Raonic after the Canadian played a near-perfect match to beat Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-2. No. 4 Andy Murray eased past Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 6-3 and will play Feliciano Lopez. Lopez scored the only upset of the day over No. 5 Kei Nishikori, winning 6-4, 7-6. 

Maria Sharapova upset by emotional Flavia Pennetta at Indian Wells

In the All-Australian derby it was Bernard Tomic getting the better of Thanasi Kokkinakis, winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to advance to his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal. Tomic is in the midst of a fantastic start to the season, making a tour-leading six ATP quarterfinals so far. In Indian Wells he handed David Ferrer just his second loss of the season and backed it up with the win today. And he's been doing it all with a toothache. 

"I had problems with the wisdom tooth I have to remove. I was getting a lot of pain and headache, so it's going to be tough for me tomorrow to see how I wake up and what medication I need to take, because I have to do the surgery in the next few weeks."

On Thursday, Tomic will face No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who beat John Isner 6-4, 7-6(5) to advance into the quarters. 

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