Once everyone could hear, Aryna Sabalenka delivered a message that was loud and clear at the BNP Paribas Open on Friday.
In a women’s semifinal match delayed by half an hour by audio system glitches on Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Sabalenka continued the strong play that earned her an Australian Open title two months ago. With strong serves and powerful ground strokes, Sabalenka advanced to her first BNP Paribas Open singles final with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari.
Sabalenka will meet No. 10 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who beat top-seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-2, 6-2 in the other semifinal. The women’s final begins at 1 p.m., Sunday.
Seeded second in the BNP Paribas Open this year, Sabalenka has lost just 24 games to four opponents in the two-week event. She also advanced in one match by a walkover.
“It sounds crazy. I’m just very happy right now,” Sabalenka said of her first final appearance in Indian Wells. “It was a tough match. Maria is such a great player. I knew coming here it was going to be tough. I’m super happy with this win.”
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While Sakkari had won the last two meetings between the players, Sakkari said after her own quarterfinals win Thursday that the Belerusian Sabalenka is a different and more confident player since the Australian Open win. That was evident Friday, with Sabalenka breaking Sakkari’s serve five times in the two sets and bouncing back each time Sakkari threatened Sabalenka’s control of the match.
Sabalenka admitted that her mindset coming into a tournament has changed after making the WTA finals last year and winning the Australian Open this year.
“I have this understanding that probably I am a favorite in this tournament, one of them,” Sabalenka said. “I can understand it, but at the same time I am not focusing on that. That’s okay to be on the list, but still I have to work and I have to bring my tennis.”
The players exchanged breaks of serve in the first set with Sabalenka leading 3-2, but Sabalenka then broke Sakkari’s serve in the next game for a 4-2 lead. Sakkari’s serve was broken again in the final game of the set for a 6-2 win for Sabalenka.
The second set featured tougher tennis from both players, including a 14-point game featuring four deuces, a game Sabalenka won in a break of serve for a 4-2 lead. The players remained on serve after that, allowing Sabalenka to serve out for the match.
Sakkari, the Greek star seeded seventh in Indian Wells, was denied a return trip to the finals. She lost to Iga Swiatek in the 2022 championship.
The match was set for 3 p.m. but did not start until 3:39 p.m. With no audio system, the scores could not be broadcast to the fans and the automatic Hawkeye line system “out” calls on serves and other shots could not be heard by fans or the players.
The problem began before the players even reached the court, when the traditional bells that welcome the players to the court could not be played by the sound system. After a delay of a few minutes, the bells did play and the two players walked onto the court, but then a microphone for the on-court announcer went out, meaning Sabalenka walked onto the court with no introduction.
While the audio system was worked on, the two players stayed on the court, staying in the shade of an umbrella or walking over to talk to the friends and coaches or even to each other.
“For a second I was thinking, oops, something is going wrong today,” Sabalenka laughed. “It’s not going to be the same. But then I had to remind myself that that’s okay. Stuff like that can happen.”
While the audio system was worked on, the two players remained on the court, staying in the shade of an umbrella or walking over to talk to friends and coaches or even to each other.
The first serve was finally hit by Sabalenka at 3:39 p.m.