Swiatek sets Rybakina rematch at Indian Wells, Sinner ends Fritz title defense

World number one Iga Swiatek swept past Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday to line up an Indian Wells semi-final grudge match against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

Rybakina, who stunned Swiatek in the fourth round of the Australian Open before falling to Aryna Sabalenka in the final of the year’s first Grand Slam, out-lasted 76th-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-4.

“She’s playing really well and in semi-finals you always are going to play against the top players, so I’ll be ready,” Swiatek said. “Last time we played was in Australia. Totally different conditions. So I’ll just prepare the same as before any other match and I’ll do 100%.”

Swiatek, in her 50th week at number one, is vying to become just the second woman after Martina Navratilova in 1990-91 to win back-to-back titles in the combined WTA and ATP Masters 1000 event in the California desert.

But men’s defending champion Taylor Fritz’s hopes of a repeat were ended by 13th-ranked Italian Jannik Sinner, who out-gunned the fifth-ranked American 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in a pulsating Stadium Court clash.

Sinner, winner of a title this year in Montpellier, seized the initiative with a service break in the opening game. It proved all the opening he needed as he saved a break point in the next game and went on to pocket the set.

Fritz, who rose to fifth in the world with a title at Delray Beach this year, responded in the second, losing just four points on his serve and converting the only break point in the final game when he slipped a low forehand up the line past the Italian.

It was neck and neck again in the third, which opened with an exchange of breaks before Fritz used his big serve to escape a 0-40 jam.

Fritz saved another break point in the seventh game, racing forward on Sinner’s drop shot and coming up with an angled backhand winner.

But Sinner broke through in the ninth game, his pounding forehand to the corner forcing the miss from Fritz on break point.

Sinner, coping admirably with the windy conditions, polished it off with a hold at love after two hours and 17 minutes.

“I knew the last games would be tough to close it out, I was also a little bit against wind,” Sinner said. “I just tried to play quite aggressively which I’ve done.

“Obviously (I’m) very happy about the performance, playing against Taylor is not easy. I lost against him two years ago here and given the conditions, I’m very happy that I found a way to win,” added Sinner, who awaits the winner of the remaining quarter-final between top-seeded world number two Carlos Alcaraz and 10th-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The Canadian has won all three of their prior encounters.

Swiatek has reached the semis without dropping a set. Romania’s Cirstea, ranked 83rd in the world and coming off an impressive fourth-round victory over fifth-ranked Caroline Garcia, did all she could to stick with Swiatek early.

She recovered an early break and fended off a break point as she leveled the opening set at 2-2.

But Swiatek, adjusting to the warm daytime conditions after two straight night matches, won the next eight games to take a stranglehold on the contest.

– Proper finish –

Down 4-0 in the second, Cirstea clawed one back and held serve for 4-2 in a spirited display before Swiatek closed it out.

“The most important thing for me is that I came back in the second set to finish it properly,” Swiatek said.

She’ll face her biggest test of the week against Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, who had all she could handle from the oft-injured Muchova.

Rybakina needed three match points to close it out, wasting two with a pair of backhand errors before sealing it with her sixth ace of the day.

“I’m just happy that in the end I managed to win the match with an ace, for sure,” Rybakina said.

The other semi-final berths were decided on Wednesday, when Daniil Medvedev — chasing a fourth straight ATP title after victories at Rotterdam, Doha and Dubai — beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain to set a clash with American Frances Tiafoe.

Sabalenka also advanced, blowing past American Coco Gauff to book a meeting with 2022 finalist Maria Sakkari.