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Badosa battles past Azarenka to land Indian Wells title

Spain’s Paula Badosa thwarted Victoria Azarenka’s hopes of winning a third BNP Paribas Open title at Indian Wells on Sunday, edging a mighty final battle that last over 3 hours in the California desert heat to hoist the trophy herself.

I think it was a really tough match. I think it was a really good one as well, because she played an amazing level. I think I had to rise [to a] high level every set. At the third set, I think I played my best. It was the only option if I wanted to win, so I'm really proud of it. The first thing that I've learned this week is that nothing is impossible. If you fight, if you work, after all these years, you can achieve anything. Paula Badosa

The No 21 seed took the honours, 7-6(5) 2-6 7-6(2), to become just the third woman to win on her Indian Wells debut, joining Bianca Andreescu in 2019 and Serena Williams in 1999 in winning the title on her first appearance.

“Every morning I wake up, and my dream is to win a tournament like this,” Badosa said after her 3 hour 4 minute triumph. “I have to keep working hard and always believe.

“The key is to enjoy the journey.”

Azarenka, who won the title here in 2012 and 2016, was the clear favourite heading into the final, but it proved to be battle of skills and will, and Badosa looked the more confident as the first set went to a breaker and fell the Spaniard’s way, despite seeing her 4-0 points lead levelled at 5-5.

The Belarusian 27th seed then dominated the second, turning the match around after jumping out to an 3-0 lead before winning it with an ace, to force matters into a decider.

The tide began to turn back in Badosa’s favour early in the third, after an early exchange of breaks in games that each stretched past the 5 minute mark, but Azarenka put herself in good position to win, holding for 4-4 with a stunning backhand down the line, then breaking Badosa for 5-4 and a chance to serve for the match.

Badosa fired back for 5-5, though, and the pair moved into the decisive breaker where a litany of bold Spanish winners off both wings put her in a commanding 4-1 lead, and she eased to victory from there, closing out the biggest title of her career with a formidable forehand winner.

“This is a dream come true,” Badosa said on the court during the presentation ceremony, and turning to Azarenka add: “I remember, when I was 14 or 15 years old, seeing you win Grand Slams and hoping one day I can play like that.”

The contest, arguably, was one of the best of the year, and while Badosa landed just her second career title, after Belgrade earlier this year, Azarenka was magnanimous in defeat.

“The entire match, the quality of tennis, was super high level,” the 32-year old Belarusian said. “We were both going for our shots, really pushing each other to the max.

“That’s what made it super entertaining, that competitive spirit, really fighting for every ball, not giving in anywhere.”

Azarenka’s season was interrupted by injuries as she worked on changes to her game, and she made early exits in the Grand Slam events, with her best result in reaching the fourth round at the French Open.

“This year has been challenging a bit,” she said, “but finishing on a strong note, not necessarily with the result I wanted, but with the progress I wanted to seek, that’s really positive.”

Victoria Azarenka fell in the deciding set tiebreak to Paula Badosa in the championship match

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Badosa is now 6-0 in Indian Wells main-draw matches, having beaten Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, Angelique Kerber and Ons Jabeur, all in straight sets, to reach the final.

“The first thing I learned this week is that nothing is impossible,” said Badosa, who takes home $1.2 million, more than her previous prize money for the year of just over $1 million, in the process.

The 23-year old demonstrated her mental toughness as she out-muscled Azarenka, who has won 21 WTA singles titles, including 2 Grand Slam singles, 6 Premier Mandatory singles and 4 WTA Premier 5 singles.

Had the Belarusian won this match, she would have been the first woman to win 3 titles at Indian Wells, but it was Badosa who claimed the title with a hard-fought, gritty, 3-set victory.

Gruelling games from the early stages of the first set saw both players saving 8 break points between them in the first 4 games alone.

Badosa went up a break twice, at 4-3 and 6-5, but Azarenka was able to match the Spaniard’s power and pulled back to level both times.

After 70 energy sapping minutes, they moved into the first set tiebreak, where Badosa saw her 4-0 lead slide back to 5-5, but she grabbed a set point at 6-5 after incredibly lengthy rallies, and another astounding 28-shot rally wrapped up the first set after 79 intense minutes in 31˚C heat, won by the Spaniard with a glorious backhand cross-court winner.

Muttering to herself in encouragement, Azarenka set aside the disappointment and, as she so often does, upped her intensity, looking the fresher of the two in the second while Badosa’s groundstroke velocity wilted.

The Belarusian started coming into the net more, which shortened the rallies, and won the first 3 games before storming through the set to take a 5-1 lead with depth and groundstroke precision, sprinkling in a few aces into the mix.

Two games later Azarenka smacked an ace to get to set point, and then closed it out to level the match when Badosa fired a backhand long.

Paula Badosa is the first Spaniard to win BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells

© Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Badosa stamped her authority on Azarenka’s opening service game of the decider and secured an early 2-0 lead, but the Belarusian would not lie down, and she broke right back, then began hitting deeper into the court, pushing back the Spaniard with heavy forehands, and hammering point-ending backhands into the open space.

Azarenka’s tenacity was rewarded with a break to go up 5-4 as she stepped up to the line to close out victory, but Badosa broke right back after the Belarusian hit 4 consecutive errors to surrender it.

Two gritty holds later and the championship was headed to another tiebreak, which was a nervy decider for both, but the lesser experienced Spaniard was the one to hold steady on the big points as Azarenka’s consistency fell by the wayside.

Azarenka appeared to run out of gas, losing 4 of the final 5 points of the match, as Badosa confidently struck pin-point serves, punishing backhands and powerful forehands, sealing her victory with one last cross-court winner and making history as the winner of the longest recorded women’s final in BNP Paribas Open history.

After cracking her forehand winner, Badosa lay face down on the baseline, crying, as Azarenka came around the net to hug the 23-year-old Spaniard.

“I think it was a really tough match,” Badosa told the media. “I think it was a really good one as well, because she played an amazing level.

“I think I had to rise [to a] high level every set. At the third set, I think I played my best. It was the only option if I wanted to win, so I’m really proud of it.

“The first thing that I’ve learned this week is that nothing is impossible. If you fight, if you work, after all these years, you can achieve anything.

“That’s the first message that I see that could happen. And to dream. Sometimes you have tough moments.

“In my case, I have been through tough moments. I never stopped dreaming. That’s what kept me working hard and believing until the last moment.

“I’m very happy what’s happening. I’m a little bit still in shock what happened today because winning a tournament like this, it’s always been a dream.”

Champion Paula Badosa with Victoria Azarenka, the runner-up, at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Sunday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Both players were solid when their backs were against the wall, with Azarenka saving 8 of the 13 break points she faced, while Badosa fended off 10 of 17.

Overall, Azarenka had 4 more winners and 8 fewer unforced errors than Badosa, with two closely contested sets book-ending a second set in which the Belarusian dominated but, ultimately, the match was decided in the final set breaker, where the Spaniard won 5 of the 9 points with winners.

Surprisingly, Badosa is the first Spaniard to take home the Indian Wells title.

Former World No 2 Conchita Martinez came the closest, with her runner-up showings in 1992, but she lost to Monica Seles, and 1996 when she lost to Stefanie Graf, while former World No 1 players Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Garbiñe Muguruza have never made the final here.

With the victory, Badosa halves her career-high ranking, rising to a new career high of World No 13 in the latest WTA rankings.

Badosa is also in contention for a spot at the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara with the 1,000 points she earned here, which puts her into 8th position in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals with two weeks left before that tournament kicks off.

The combined ATP and WTA 1000 tour event at Indian Wells was one of the first major sporting events cancelled in March 2020 when the coronavirus took hold in the US.

Held for the first time in the autumn, the BNP Paribas Open will return to its usual March slot at Indian Wells next year.



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