2016 BNP Paribas Open semifinalist Karolina Pliskova has had a stellar start to 2017. Last year's US Open finalist, reached her second successive Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open. The Czech number one has won two titles in 2017 both at Premier level in Brisbane and Doha defeating Alize Cornet and Caroline Wozniacki respectively. Furthermore, the third seed has been spearheaded at the top of the draw as reigning Australian Open champion Serena Williams withdrew from the event due to an ongoing knee problem.
However, Pliskova's run to the fourth round hasn't been plain sailing but she has to find her best game rather quickly as she is up against 15th seed Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss number one has produced some consistent results in the past couple years. Bacsinszky advanced to the quarterfinal stage here at Indian Wells in 2015 and reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the French Open that same year. The Swiss' remarkable rise in the tennis game is a touching story, that can produce a tear to your eye as Bacsinszky went away from the game for a while in 2013 to do hotel management. Her unhealthy relationship with her father, made her lose the love for the game but she rediscovered her love for it herself. Incredibly, the all-court player was ranked inside the top 300 at the end of 2013 but ended the following year inside the top 50. Furthermore, she reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2015 and finished that year inside the top 10 for the first time.
The Swiss were injured towards the end of the 2016 WTA campaign but she made the third round of the Australian Open losing to Daria Gavrilova in three sets. Moreover, Bacsinszky defeated France's Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic in Fed Cup ties in February, which would give her some confidence under her belt as she looks to move up the rankings once more.
Pliskova's route to the fourth round
The third-seeded Czech now coached by David Kotyza, the man who took compatriot Petra Kvitova to two Wimbledon titles in 2011 and 2014. Pliskova will be hoping to reap similar rewards under the experienced coach's tutelage. An out of sorts Pliskova was up against reigning Olympic Gold medalist, Monica Puig in the second round. Last year's US Open finalist dropped serve six times which is uncharacteristic. However, Pliskova managed to get her game together and defeated the Puerto Rican, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 in just under the two-hour mark. Once again, the third seed wasn't at her best on Sunday in her third round match with 29th seed Irina-Camelia Begu. The Romanian could have taken the match to three sets but was unable to convert the two set point chances that she created. Pliskova used up more energy getting herself in a two-hour tussle with the slumping Begu, defeating the 26-year-old, 6-4, 7-6 (2) to reach the fourth round for the second year running.
Bacsinszky's route to the fourth round
The 15th seed received a bye into the second round and she was up against Begu's compatriot Monica Niculescu, who's unorthodox style of tennis can trick her opponents. Nevertheless, the 2015 quarterfinalist dispatched Niculescu in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2 advancing to the third round. In the third round, Bacsinszky was up against 18th seed Kiki Bertens in the battle of French Open semifinalists. Ironically, the Dutchwoman defeated the Swiss number one at Roland Garros to deny Bacsinszky from making successive semifinals in the French capital. Furthermore, the 15th seed was cruising to a straights sets win but Bertens fought back to take the match to three sets. Eventually, Bacsinszky came through in a match that lasted over three hours and 20 minutes, saving four match points to win 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (8).
The two seeded players have met on three occasions with Bacsinszky having the slender 2-1 advantage in their meetings. The 15th seed won their first two encounters in Montreal in 2014, 7-5, 6-4 and the following year on the clay courts in Rome, 6-4, 6-0. However, Pliskova would halve the deficit by beating the Swiss number one in their Fed Cup tie between Switzerland and the Czech Republic in 2016. Pliskova came through that match 6-4, 6-2.
This is a great opportunity for both players to go on a good run in this tournament. 2014 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska and 2015 champion Simona Halep fell by the wayside on Day 8. Serena Williams' absence and defending champion Victoria Azarenka's absence from the tournament means the tournament is wide open as ever. Both players have spent quite a bit of time on the court and will be physically feeling the effects. However, they will have benefitted from a day's rest. Indian Wells is one of the biggest tournaments outside of the Grand Slams, and the prestigious event is the first of four Premier Mandatory events of the year.
Pliskova will need to keep the points short, hoping that her big serve will be firing on all cylinders, although she has improved significantly in longer rallies, she will not want to get involved in those with Bacsinszky. The 15th seed is crafty around the court, and she moves exceptionally well and gets a lot of balls back in the court. The Swiss' backhand is magnificent and can do a lot of damage on the court, on the other hand, Pliskova's power game will need to neutralize Bacsinszky's game in order to stop her from outfoxing her. The third seed will need to dictate play in this match and continue her dominance but it is easier said than done.
This is the third match scheduled inside Stadium 3 following the conclusion of the men's third round encounter between Taylor Fritz and Malek Jaziri. The winner of this fourth round match will have an equally tricky quarterfinal encounter with 10th seed Elina Svitolina or reigning French Open women's champion and seventh seed Garbine Muguruza, who will do battle on the same court once Pliskova and Bacsinszky have finished.
Prediction: Pliskova in three sets