Azarenka shoots for 3rd Indian Wells title against Badosa

Victoria Azarenka won Indian Wells in 2012 and 2016 and will be shooting for her hat-trick in the BNP Paribas Open trophy match on Sunday, when she will meet debutante finalist Paula Badosa, after both came through highly entertaining semi-final clashes against Jelena Ostapenko and Ons Jabeur respectively on Friday.

I feel like, right now, I'm a bit more settled with a bit more structure, a little bit more discipline, which makes it not necessarily easier, but a bit clearer what I need to do. So it doesn't take extra energy on that, so I can kind of focus my energy more on the fighting for every ball. Victoria Azarenka

Azarenka, seeded 27, gave it her all in the night’s first semi-final, getting past 24th-seeded Ostapenko’s barrage to advance 3-6 6-3 7-5 into her third final, while Badosa, the No 15 seed from Spain, cruised past Jabeur, Tunisia’s trail-blazing 12th seed, 6-3 6-3.

“I thought the most important [thing], I would say, today, was my fight, that I can be really proud of,” Azarenka said, in her post-match press conference. “Analysing the game, it was a lot of, probably, things that I could have maybe done a little bit better.

“Overall she was playing really incredible in the first set, not giving me much to do.

“I was just trying to find opportunity, actually create opportunity, for me to get back into the match, to take a little bit more control in the match, really fight for every ball.”

It was all Ostapenko in the opening set as a sluggish Azarenka struggled to handle the lack of rhythm and overwhelming pace of the Latvian bombardment from across the net.

The Belarusian has flourished in the quicker day session conditions but was uneven in her first night match of the week against Petra Kvitova in the 3rd round, as she was again on Friday.

Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland Garros champion, however, has revelled in the high bounces, thin air and slower court speeds of the California desert, dispatching 2nd seed Iga Swiatek in straight sets before reeling off 5 consecutive games to oust Shelby Rogers in three a round later.

The Latvian continued her trend from the get-go, bullying Azarenka to win the first set in just over half an hour of play.

She threatened to run away with the match when she broke early in the second and established a 2-0 lead, but Azarenka’s game began to click into place as she willed herself on, upping her intensity to find her range, particularly on the backhand wing, to punish Ostapenko’s attackable serve, and changing direction with her forehand with ease.

The Belarusian won 4 games in a row, and ultimately levelled the match at set all.

Jelena Ostapenko had her chances to get past Victoria Azarenka but fell in 3 sets at Indian Wells

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The decider was closely contested, with an exchange of early breaks leading to 3-3, although Azarenka continued to step into the court and put pressure on the Ostapenko serve.

The Latvian was able to fend off 2 break points at 3-3, but succumbed at 5-5, dropping her serve to give Azarenka the chance to serve for the match.

Staring at defeat, Ostapenko went for broke, mixing a deft lob in with her groundstroke missiles as she carved out 3 break points to send the match into a tiebreak, but Azarenka served her way out of trouble and eventually converted on her 1st match point to reach her 3rd Indian Wells final.

Raising her hands to the sky in relief, Azarenka’s toughest battle of the tournament was complete in 2 hours and 20 minutes of play.

“I think my season has been tricky,” Azarenka added. “There were parts where I physically couldn’t necessarily bring that extra level, extra fight, which was very frustrating.

“Then there were parts where I felt that I was looking for something to add, and I didn’t necessarily know what it was.

“It was a lot of searching in the season, a lot of kind of stepping into unknown.

“I feel like, right now, I’m a bit more settled with a bit more structure, a little bit more discipline, which makes it not necessarily easier, but a bit clearer what I need to do.

“So it doesn’t take extra energy on that, so I can kind of focus my energy more on the fighting for every ball.”

Azarenka won despite not having a massive advantage in any of the major statistics, with Ostapenko having the better percentage on first serves and first-serve returns and delivering 49 winners over the 3-set contest.

The 32-year-old Belarusian last reached a final on the WTA Tour a year ago, when she fell to Aryna Sabalenka in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and then advanced to the 2020 US Open final, but she was unable to discover form at this season’s majors, with her best finish being a 4th round appearance at the French Open.

Azarenka owns a perfect record in finals at the BNP Paribas Open, though, where she beat Maria Sharapova in straight sets in 2012, and defeated Serena Williams in the same fashion in 2015.

Paula Badosa got the better of Ons Jabeur in straight sets in their semi-final on Friday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Badosa will be Azarenka’s final opponent after the Spaniard cruised to a straight-set victory over Jabeur in Friday’s second semi-final, although she had to survive a surge in the final few games of the second set from the Tunisian, putting her away on her 7th match point.

The French Open quarter-finalist defeated Coco Gauff and Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals, where she took out Angelique Kerber in two sets.

Badosa will be playing in the biggest final of her career on Sunday, having won the Serbia Ladies Open over Ana Konjuh in May, after the Croat retired in the second set, and also reached the quarter-finals at the Tokyo Olympics.

The first Spanish woman in 25 years to advance to the final here since Conchita Martinez, she successfully cooled off Jabeur, who has been one of the hottest players on the Tour with 48 wins in 2021, the leader of all players this year, and also claimed her first career title in Birmingham to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA tournament.

23-year-old Badosa, who has lost just one set en route to her second final of the season, began the season ranked 70 and is now projected to make her Top 20 debut on Monday.

“Mentally I think I’m very confident,” Badosa said. “I’m believing every point. Every day I’m working very hard as well.

“I think I’m progressing on a little bit of everything and that’s what is making my level going up.

“That’s why I’m in a final and playing against the best of the world.”

Badosa and Jabeur had split their two prior meetings, both on hard-courts, with Jabeur winning their most recent encounter in a tight 3-set win at the Miami Open this spring.

They are good friends and both are in contention to qualify for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara.

Ons Jabeur could find the game to get past good friend Paula Badosa on Friday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Badosa opened with an immediate break of serve and consolidated for a 2-0 lead, but Jabeur successfully closed the deficit with the prolific use of drop-shots to shorten rallies and disrupt the Spaniard’s baseline rhythm.

Her steadiness and patience, however, ultimately won the day as she reeled off the final 3 games to pocket the opener.

Jabeur had her chances throughout, though, but converted just 1 of the 10 break points she created, while Badosa helped her own cause by serving nearly 70% of her first serves in, and winning 75.6% of points off those.

The second set was decided by a single break of serve, as they stayed level before Jabeur fell behind at 2-3, 15-40, and Badosa broke on her 2nd break point to lead 4-2.

Badosa had 3 chances to break for a 5th time and seal the match at 2-5, but Jabeur found some of her best shot-making to save 3 match points and hold in a dramatic penultimate game, coming through 6 deuces to stay within a break at 3-5.

The final game was not short on drama, with Jabeur earning triple-breakpoint to get back on serve at 3-5, 0-40, but Badosa did not flinch, saving all 3 before closing out the match on her 7th match point.

Jabeur, who is set to make history on Monday as the first Arab player to ever be ranked in the ATP or WTA Top 10, fired 24 winners to 35 unforced errors, while Badosa played a more contained match, hitting 15 winners to 22 miscues, 7 of which came off double-faults.

“Today I feel like I did something different than other days,” Jabeur said. “I was really fighting hard even though I knew I wasn’t playing very well.

“I just tried. I tried to think. I tried to do whatever in my power. Honestly I don’t regret much because today she was a much better player.”

The main difference between the two was that Jabeur had break point chances in 4 games but broke just once, while Badosa had break points in 6 games and broke 4 times.

“After I played clay – I did a very good clay season – I wanted to improve on a lot of things on hard court,” Badosa said. “I worked a lot.

“Then I had the grass court season. Then I was playing again on hard court. I did pretty good. Not amazing, but I did good in Olympics, Cincinnati, all that. I still wanted to improve a few things.

“I think I’m doing it very well this week. I’m pretty happy that I improved really fast. I’m quite proud of myself on that.”

While Badosa takes on Azarenka in the final, Jabeur heads to Moscow to try to secure her WTA Finals qualification.

“I feel like my goal right now is to recover because I think I play Tuesday, which sucks because I thought I would have a bye,” Jabeur said. “Of course, someone took wild cards in Moscow.

“I have maybe a 10-hour flight. That gives me plenty of time to think about what happened this week.

“But, yeah, my main goal is to be ready for Moscow. The same goal: Guadalajara. I’m really not far. A lot of things in play. A lot of things depend on Paula right now. Let’s see what’s going to happen.”

Badosa, for her part, was as solid as she has been all week, defending and attacking with admirable aplomb and running down the many Jabeur drop-shots for easy winners.

Against Azarenka, Badosa plays an opponent she has yet to face but who employs a similar baseline consistency that thrives in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden conditions.



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