Navarro beats Sabalenka in 3 sets, Gauff advances to quarters on her birthday at Indian Wells

Emma Navarro, of the United States, returns to Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill )

Emma Navarro, of the United States, returns to Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill )

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Emma Navarro beat second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday for the biggest win of the young American’s career.

Navarro improved to 18-5 this year, with her victories leading the WTA Tour. She is 11-2 in three-set matches. The 2021 NCAA singles champion from Virginia reached her fourth quarterfinal of the year and first at the 1000 level.

“I was able to stay aggressive on returns even though she has a really good serve,” Navarro said in an on-court interview. “Played some better service games in the third set and just was able to put a lot of pressure on her throughout. I think that’s what made the difference.”

Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, trailed 1-4 in the third set and won just one more game before getting broken on Navarro’s second match point.

“It’s never easy coming out and playing an opponent like that, so experienced and just so talented, obviously,” Navarro said. “She made it really tough on me today, but I was able to play some good tennis in the big moments.”

The 22-year-old American won the title at Hobart early in the year.

Navarro moves on to the quarterfinals against ninth-seeded Maria Sakkari, who beat Diane Parry, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Coco Gauff celebrated her 20th birthday with a 6-0, 6-2 win in just over an hour against Elise Mertens to reach the quarters for the second consecutive year in the Southern California desert.

“Today was one of my best matches since the Australian Open,” Gauff told the Tennis Channel. “I was definitely trying to be aggressive. That just made the difference. I don’t think she felt she could step in on me.”

Mertens, who knocked off Naomi Osaka in the third round, trailed 6-0, 2-0 before she broke Gauff and then fought through a five-deuce game on her serve for a 2-2 tie. But Gauff reeled off the final four games to improve to 4-0 in her career against the Belgian.

“I did really well playing deep in the court and mixing up the pace on her,” Gauff said. “She can do really well when it’s all the same pace.”

Gauff won 84% of her first serves and won six of eight break points.

She formed a 2 and a zero with her hands to acknowledge her special day, with mom Candi dancing in the players’ box. Gauff blew out the candles on a cake she was presented by the Tennis Channel and then lifted it up and took a bite.

Yuan Yue of China defeated 11th-seed Daria Kasatkina, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in 2 1/2 hours to reach her first quarterfinal at a WTA 1000 tournament. Yuan took out No. 8 seed Quiwen Zheng in the second round and plays Gauff next.

On the men’s side, fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev had just eight winners in a 6-4, 6-4 win over 13th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov. Medvedev held at love to close out the match for his seventh win in 10 career matches over Dimitrov.

No. 7 seed Holger Rune outlasted 2022 winner Taylor Fritz, 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3. He’ll play Medvedev in the quarterfinals.

No. 9 seed Casper Ruud rallied to beat 37-year-old Gael Monfils 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. Ruud improved to 5-0 in deciding sets this year.

Luca Nardi of Italy wasn’t able to follow up his huge win over top-ranked Novak Djokovic, losing to 17th-seeded Tommy Paul, 6-4, 6-3.

Paul fired five aces against no double faults. The American won 78% of his first-serve points and saved the only break point he faced. Paul plays Ruud in the quarters.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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