Tennis: Basilashvili, Norrie reach Indian Wells final without Top 25

AP , Sunday 17 Oct 2021

Nikoloz Basilashvili beat American Taylor Fritz 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Saturday to set up a final against Cameron Norrie at the BNP Paribas Open, which will crown its first men’s winner ranked outside the Top 25 since 2010.

Nikoloz Basilashvili
Nikoloz Basilashvili, of Georgia, returns to Taylor Fritz, of the United States, in a semifinal at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP)

Norrie of Britain beat Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-2, 6-2 in an 86-minute semifinal. Basilashvili needed 1 hour, 41 minutes to get by Fritz, who grew up in the San Diego area and was the clear favorite of the fans.

Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka plays 21st-seeded Paula Badosa of Spain in the women’s final Sunday.

The combined ATP and WTA tournament has been filled with upsets during its two-week run in the fall instead of its usual March date. Top seeds Daniil Medvedev and Karolina Pliskova were among the fallen in an event missing Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.

It’s the first time in the tournament’s 45-year history that all four men’s semifinalists were ranked outside of the Top 25. Norrie is 25th, Dimitrov 28th, Basilashvili 36th and Fritz 39th.

The last man outside the Top 25 to win Indian Wells was No. 26 Ivan Ljubicic in 2010.

Fritz was trying to reach the final and have a shot at becoming the tournament’s first American winner since Andre Agassi in 2001. Instead, the 23-year-old fell to 0-5 in semifinals this year.

Fritz’s ace gave him a 6-5 lead in the first. He had a break point on Basilashivili’s serve to close out the set, but the big-hitting Georgian fought it off and hit a backhand crosscourt winner on the second deuce to force the tiebreaker. Tied 5-all in the breaker, Fritz committed two straight errors to drop the set.

“His backhand he definitely hits harder than anybody on tour,” Fritz said. “The way that it comes through the court so hard and flat and deep, nothing you can really do. If I wanted to be more aggressive, I would have been opening myself up for a lot more mistakes just trying to hit big off of such a big ball.”

Basilashvili earned the first break of the match in the sixth game and then held for a 5-2 lead. Fritz dropped one point on his serve in the next game to close to 5-3.

Basilashvili couldn’t convert on his first three match points. His unforced errors gave Fritz two break points before Basilashvili’s forehand winner into the open court closed out the win.

“I was a little bit more relaxed actually when I was break down rather than when I was leading,” Basilashvili said. “I just got more relaxed, kind of focused on the ball. I started moving better. I was just not missing at these moments.”

Basilashivili is the first player from the former Soviet republic of Georgia to reach a Masters 1000 final.

“I’m super happy I can achieve something like this, especially a country like Georgia, a very small country,” he said. “I did not have any support from my country because obviously tennis is popular there. I made my way. I passed really tough roads to get to here, so it means a lot.”

In the first semifinal, there were four service breaks in the first set, with Norrie earning three of them.

Norrie converted the only break of the second set in the first game when the Bulgarian netted a forehand. Norrie’s forehand down-the-line winner gave him a 4-2 lead and he served out the match at love.

“When I went to serve for the match, I was like, ‘This is definitely a big service game here,’” Norrie said. “I was a little bit nervous. But I came out and I served great.”

The second-seeded duo of Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens beat Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Rybakina 7-6 (1), 6-3 to win the women’s doubles title. Hsieh and Mertens earned $414,500.

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