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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday October 15, 2021

 
Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka rallied from a set and break down to reach her third final at Indian Wells.

Photo Source: Getty

Even in a 2021 season that she called “tricky,” Victoria Azarenka has found a way to pad her Indian Wells legacy. The two-time BNP Paribas Open champion reached the final on Friday with a gritty 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over Latvia’s Ostapenko and will face Spain’s Paul Badosa, the No.21 seed, for the title on Sunday.

Tennis Express

“I thought the most important I would say today was my fight, that I can be really proud of,” 27th-seeded Azarenka said after the two hour and 20-minute tussle.

The triumph marked Azarenka’s first comeback from a set down in eight attempts this season, and she engineered the fightback with resilience that never seemed to wither, even when the hard-hitting Ostapenko was having her way.


“I think my season has been tricky,” Azarenka explained on Friday night. “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.”

32nd-ranked Azarenka has now defeated three players (Petra Kvitova, Jessica Pegula and Ostapenko) ranked higher than her at Indian Wells, and she believes she is just in a better place right now than she was all season.

“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,” she said. “So it doesn't take extra energy on that so I can kind of focus my energy more on the fighting for every ball. I think overall I would say it's not a great season but there was a lot of learning experience for me. I think from that standpoint I can be pretty positive with that.”

Azarenka and eight other players – Martina Navratilova, Mary Joe Fernandez, Steffi Graff, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Daniela Hantuchová and Maria Sharapova – are all tied with two BNP Paribas Open titles. The Belarusian, who owns a 33-8 lifetime record at Indian Wells, can become the tournament’s first three-time champion if she defeats Badosa on Sunday.


Badosa continued her remarkable run with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in Friday’s nightcap.

The 23-year-old, making her Indian Wells debut, has notched four consecutive Top-20 wins at the BNP Paribas Open, giving her a total of ten on the season. Badosa was 0-5 against the Top-20 heading into 2021 – she is now 10-3 this season and will bid for her biggest title, and her second of 2021.

The Spaniard has been a remarkable story over the last two seasons. A former Roland Garros Girls Singles champion in 2015, Badosa struggled with anxiety and depression as she tried to make sense of the expectations and pressure of being a pro for several years. She made her struggles public in 2019 and has since found herself at the professional level.

She made her first Top-100 finish in 2019 and has continued to rise, perfecting a lethal ground game which is anchored by a world-class forehand. She has made the second week of three of her last five major appearances, including a quarterfinal at Roland Garros this year, and she is projected to make her Top-20 debut next week.

Badosa will have her hands full with Azarenka, an Indian Wells legend who will bid for her 22nd career title and is striding into top form once again in the California desert. But the Spaniard’s form may just be strong enough to create a stirring surprise in Sunday’s final.

“I've never played against Paula,” Azarenka said. “I've never really practiced against her. That would be something, a new challenge for me to even understand her ball, her pace. Will be definitely a bit of adaptation there.”

 

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